12 Nov 2009

Plight of stray animals and cattle heath: High Court takes note

"Agriculture accounts for a major part of the economy of this Country. It is in turn dependent upon the Country's livestock as future growth and development of agriculture sector draws its sustenance from livestock which generates employment, provides power, manure and also a major source of income for the farmers. Livestock not only provides food and nutrition security but also generates income for landless and small land holders who constitute a major part of the population of the Country", notes the opening paragraph of a recent decision of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana.

Dealing with a petition, filed in public interest, alleging lack of care towards livestock generally, the cows in particular and also the problems of stray animals and call for the State to take strict action including initiation of prosecution against the persons who dump their animals which, in turn, create traffic hazards and nuisance. However, it seems, the Petitioners went over-board in as much as they in which they sought from a High Court a direction "that a branding code or identification mark be assigned to all animals by use of micro chip. Furthermore, financial aid be provided to Gaushalas so that the stray animals, especially the Cows, are fed, taken care and rehabilitated in Gaushalas as their adoptive homes." The Petitioners also averred that "that in Indian mythology right from Jain Agams and Rigveda, Cow was considered holy" and describing Cattle's physiology highlighted the benefits of insertion of microchip so that in case owner of the animal desert the animal and make it go stray, he can be adequately punished.

The Government, on the other hand, argued that it lacked financial resources to provide for the relief claimed by the Petitioner. Challenging the interim direction passed by the Court that wherein State has been directed to provide Rs.15/- per Cow daily, it was stated that "compliance of the order shall entail the State with additional burden of Rs.90.00 Crores per year taking into consideration present number of cattle in the Gaushalas in the State. It has been
urged that the State is not in a position to cope up with this extra financial burden on the State Exchequer. It has been stated that the State has been providing Rs.5/- per day under supplementary nutrition programme for pregnant women, nourishing mothers and adolescent girls. Under the ICDS Programme, allowance of Rs.2/- per child per day has been provided to the child upto the age of six years. Therefore providing Rs.15/- per Cow per day will not be justifiable."

The High Court, balancing on pragmatic considerations acceded to the contentions of the State.  To justify the stand being taken, the Court referred to a spate of decisions of the Supreme Court wherein it had been observed that it was not within the providence of the judiciary to look into financial and economic regulations. The High Court order observes, 

We find merit in the contentions advanced by counsel for the State that it may not be viable and feasible for the State to incur Rs.15/- per cattle per day in terms of order dated 31.7.2008. Therefore, that part of the order shall remain in abeyance till the ground realities change and the State has the necessary economic capacity to lend financial support for the care of the Cows in the Gaushalas. We say so because the Hon'ble Apex Court, in Secretary to Government of Madras and another v. P.R. Sriramulu and Another' 1996 (1) SCC 345, has observed as under:
“15. As pointed out earlier with reference to the decisions of this Court, the State enjoys the widest latitude where measure of economic regulations are concerned. These measures for fiscal and economic regulation involve an evaluation of diverse and quite often conflicting economic criteria, adjustment and balancing of various conflicting social and economic values and interests. It is for the State to decide what economic and social policy it should pursue. It is settled law that in view of the inherent complexity of the fiscal adjustments, the courts give a large discretion to the legislature in the matter of its preferences of economic and social policies and effecuate the chosen system in all possible and reasonable ways.”
Relying upon Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India (2000) 10 Supreme Court Cases 664, the Hon'ble Apex Court in Balco Employees Union (Regd.) v. Union of India and Others (2002) 2 Supreme Court Cases 333, reiterated the maxim “It is not for the Courts to consider the relative merits of different economic policies and consider whether a wiser or better one can be evolved”. Therefore, we grant liberty to the petitioners to file representation to the State Government detailing needs to provide necessary financial grant-in-aid in favour of the Gaushalas. A Division Bench of this Court in Jaswant Singh v. State of Haryana 2007(5) Recent Civil Reports 814 said “What is the public purpose is also the satisfaction of the State as it is its duty to undertake development works for the benefit of the society. This is the reason why public purpose constantly changes with the needs of the State and the society and like time never remains static”. Therefore, what amount is to be provided and when the same is to be disbursed is the sole prerogative of the State.

The Court, however, noting that it "cannot loose sight of the fact that 70% of livestock wealth in India is owned by 67% of small and marginal farmers who are land less" and that "Indian livestock is reared in close human proximity where they form component of the life system of the people. Cows, buffaloes, bullocks,mule and donkeys are not just utility animals but also companions at work for the toiling poor who rear them in their own dwelling", observed that "cows which are considered as a sacred and holy animals are often found as stray animals. The hapless are in immediate need of food, shelter and medical facilities." In this background, the petition was disposed with a direction to the appropriate authorities to examine the merits of providing financial aid for the cattle and improving the health of the live-stock. 

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