Guest post by ARJUN JOSHI
The issue with killing animals highlights an anomaly of sorts. These animals survive on the borders of our moral concepts; the consequence is that we sometimes find ourselves according them a divine moral status, while at other times denying them even basic moral status. Prakash Javadekar, the Union Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, recently sanctioned the mass-killing of wild boar in Uttarakhand, nilgai in Bihar and rhesus monkey in Himachal Pradesh. More animals such as peacocks (Goa) and wild elephants (West Bengal) have been declared to be vermin by the state governments, paving the way for their culling too.
Javadekar’s defence is that his orders are premised on complaints his Ministry has received from multiple State governments claiming that the animals are damaging farm-lands.
Construing the actions of an individual, irrespective of their arbitrariness, risks confusing the symptom for the disease. Today, Mr. Javadekar’s actions are based on an ill-informed interpretation of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. The Act stipulates the protection of all wild species, barring vermin. By definition, vermin include common crows, fruit bats, mice and rats. A notable exception is made when there is a direct threat to human life by wild animals, and it requires immediate intervention. Apart from these, arguably, justified reasons, the Ministry is disallowed from ordering culling of any other animal. Unfortunately, Mr. Javadekar has bypassed the existing framework, by opting to declare an entire species as vermin – the convenient route out of planned and strategized animal management.
Following the evolution of rights, an undisputed theory gives humans a self-declared priority when interests of animals and human beings conflict. However, there are some properties which only human beings have, which have seemed to many to be able to ground a full and equal moral status; for example, being rational, autonomous, or able to act morally have all been used to justify giving a stronger status to human beings than we do to animals. The problem with such a suggestion is that not all human beings have these properties. So if this is what grounds a full and equal moral status, it follows that not all human beings are equal after all. If we attempt to reach to the lowest common denominator to recognize a property identifiable in all human beings – therefore sufficient to ground a full and equal moral status – we are left with something such as being capable of experiencing pleasure and pain. Since the marginal cases, like infants or the senile, have this property – animals will, also, then have a full and equal moral status since they too are sentient.
On a legal note, the Doctrine of Constitutional Avoidance proposes that when remedies are available in both, the statute and the Constitution, then a decision ought to be made on the former. Parties on either side of animal rights contest assume the legitimacy of comparison between animal rights and human rights based on consciousness. However, Indian legislations avoid such conflicts by devolving inalienable rights to animals, which is boosted by the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act.
There is no dearth of innovative and cost-effective alternatives. These animals can be relocated into wildlife zones to balance the prey base, or merely to minimize their interaction with the human populace which effectively nullifies the reasons for their culling. Management of wild animals is a social necessity, however permitting such unrestrained executive action opens the floodgates of arbitrary abuse of power. Restricting executive actions to put in place healthy and sustainable alternatives, is the way forward.
The Supreme Court will hear a plea challenging three government notifications declaring as vermin, nilgais, wild boars and monkeys, thereby paving the way for their culling in Bihar, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
Arjun Joshi is a final year B.A. LL.B. student at Jindal Law School.