|| Jahnvi Shah ||
In the past year, two High Courts of India have given the animal kingdom the status of ‘legal entity’. With these judgments opening a plethora of legal remedies for these animals that have been treated with cruelty, it has granted them rights and responsibilities like that held by a human being. Animals have been made legal persons holding value in the eyes of the law much similar to a company being treated as an artificial person. Moreover, the citizens of the state have been given the role of in loco parentis which means that they will act as guardians for these animals. But to what extent does it benefit the animals and human beings? Can a human being held for neglecting the care of an animal? Who will be held directly responsible for the care of these animals? How does it affect the Muslim community celebrating Eid?
Here, the author is going to attempt to break down the two important judgments given by the High Courts in this regard.
In July 2018, the Uttarakhand HC had given the status of a juristic person or a legal entity to the entire animal kingdom (including avian and aquatic beings) in the State of Uttarakhand with rights, duties, and liabilities of a living person in a petition filed by Mr. Narayana Dutt. The judgment relies on the famous Jallikattu case, where the Supreme Court held that all living creatures including the animals have inherent dignity and a right to live peacefully and right to protect their well-being. It expanded the meaning of the word “life” as given in Article 21 of the Constitution of India to include the life of all living creatures.
It has also been added that it is the Fundamental duty of the citizens under Article 51-A of the Constitution to protect such animals. It also pointed out Article 48 under which the government should make efforts to better the lives of the animals through scientific and modern means of animal husbandry and agriculture as given.
Subsequently, much recently, in June 2019, the Punjab & Haryana High Court had declared the animal kingdom in the State of Haryana as legal entities with all rights and duties of a living person. Both these judgments, pronounced by the same judge, ie. Justice Rajiv Sharma, have relied on similar judgments such as the Ram Jankijee Deities & others v. State of Bihar & Others which held that a Hindu idol is a juristic person and hence it can hold properties and be taxed through its shebaits. It also relied on the Jallikattu judgment delivered by the Honorable Supreme Court which of the Constitution expanded the scope of Article 21 to include the animal kingdom.
The judgment also goes on to separate natural persons from artificial persons and legal persons. As per the judgment, a natural person is a human being and an artificial person is one who is created for the purposes of the society and the government whereas a legal person is someone who is given such status by the law.
The legal entity status given to the animal kingdom implies that the citizens have been given an additional responsibility to take care of the animal. Although it does seem beneficial to the animals, it puts an additional legal responsibility on the citizens to extend care and protection to the animals which were so far only a moral duty as defined under Article 51-A(g) of the Constitution. It provides for better implementation of the various statutes that are made for the benefit of the animals such as Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, Animal Birth Control Rules, 2001, etc.
Despite animals having basic rights in the statutes, it has been difficult for the State to see its implementation. This step towards giving the animals the protection of the citizens adds to their responsibilities by giving them a healthier and safer environment. It will hopefully bring about a change in the way the citizens treat the animals because now they are made personally and individually answerable for their protection.