The Uttarakhand High court last week has passed a unique order after a public interest litigation (PIL). The court declared the “entire animal kingdom, including avian and aquatic creatures” as legal entities, capable of defending themselves in courts. This means that both animals and birds will have legal rights the same as a “living person”. Many environmental activist and lawyers are divided on the court’s ruling.
The judgement came from the division bench headed by Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Lok Pal Singh, who said that in the past, various courts had given similar rights to corporations, Hindu gods, holy scriptures and rivers to ensure the greater good. They further said that to provide “greater welfare” for animals, there is a need to give them a status of “legal entity/legal person”.
The writ petition (PIL) in the case of Narayan Dutt Bhatt v Union of India & Others was initially filed to regulate the movement of horse carts between India and Nepal, but the Bench enlarged the scope of the PIL on its own, granting legal personhood to “the entire animal kingdom”.
Last year, a bench comprising Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Lok Pal Singh in a separate ruling, gave similar rights to the rivers Ganga and Yamuna, to be identified as legal persons. However, the judgment was later stayed by the Supreme Court.
According to the Hindustan Times, pointing out what a legal entity would mean, the bench said, “The entity acts like a natural person but only through a designated person, whose acts are processed within the ambit of law”. This would mean that a guardian could represent the animal kingdom.
The court said that the Article 21 not just safeguards the rights of Humans but it also protects life and the word “life” includes animal world as well.
The court also issued directions to the state government for protecting animals, including creating an animal welfare committee in every district of the state. The bench also declared all citizens of Uttarakhand “persons in loco parentis” (guardians) giving them the responsibility to protect animals and ensure their welfare.
The ruling has raised many questions
A few environmental activists did welcome the move but at the same time advocate Prashant Bhushan, who has filed several significant PILs regarding the case, told The Print that the ruling granting legal status to rivers and forests “seems odd and is controversial”.
The Logical Indian spoke to Social Entrepreneur and Environmentalist, Vimlendu Jha, who said that the ruling like this is undoubtedly an act of judicial activism which is commendable, but logistically it will be difficult for both the judiciary and the state to see who is accountable for any violation regarding the matter. “We have so many laws already in place for the protection of wildlife, should we not enforce our existing laws that will act as a deterrent for the people. Adding more laws will probably not be any help for now,” he said.
Welcoming the judgment, Gauri Maulekhi, executive member of Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), Dehradun and trustee for People For Animal Organisation, said, that this is perfectly a logical move by the judiciary. “This ruling is a form of directive principle for both citizens and wildlife. It will ensure rights for both animals and birds, who are not just the living beings but in a lot of cases they act as the breadwinners of families as well,” she said.
She further added that the present laws do not act as a deterrent to crime, and the penalty for the violation in the present laws is also negligible. So the new ruling will help the citizens in an evolved fashion. “Let’s just hope the government will keep a proper check on crime by implementing the law effectively and also will amend it when needed,” she added.