Today, in public interest litigation filed by PETA India, a division bench of the High Court of Delhi headed by Justice Vipin Sanghi directed the central government to clarify its stance regarding its proposal to prohibit the use of animals in circuses within four weeks. The government had notified the draft Performing Animals (Registration) (Amendment) Rules, 2018, and received public comments on it. The court observed that the delay in notifying the Rules may severely impact the well-being and protection of animals.
The court also directed the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) to conduct a survey of all circuses whose registrations with the AWBI have not been renewed and to report on the status of animals being held by them within eight weeks. The AWBI is the prescribed authority under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960, and regulates the use of animals for performances. The court directed that the AWBI involve the representatives of the petitioner, PETA India, and others during the surveys.
The court also pointed out that it is the obligation of the AWBI to take up the issue with local governments and district magistrates when it comes to its attention that any person or organisation is holding any animal without the proper authorisation so that the animal(s) can be seized and receive appropriate care, in coordination with petitioners. The court observed that under Section 32 of the PCA Act, local police are authorised to search for and seize the animals. Dr Aman Hingorani, the lawyer appearing for PETA India, submitted that the organisation has already volunteered to rehabilitate all such animals and provide for them through its network once they are rescued.
Based on the recent affidavit filed by the AWBI, the court observed that out of the circuses that had been operating and licensed in India, only four or five have renewed their licences. Other circuses have not complied with the requirement of making full and complete disclosures about the animals they are holding, and renewal of their licence has not been granted. The AWBI states that it is taking action against circuses whose registration has been cancelled or not been renewed, prohibiting them from exhibiting and using animals for performances.
The AWBI has advised the central government to pass legislation to end the use of animals in circuses in 2017, 2019, and 2020. Last year, the Central Zoo Authority cancelled its recognition of the Great Golden Circus, the only circus which was still using protected wild animals – namely, elephants – for performances.
Several AWBI inspections and recent investigations by PETA India prove that circuses are cruel: animals are chained continuously or confined to small, barren cages and deprived of veterinary care as well as adequate food, water, and shelter. Through physical abuse with weapons, they are forced to perform confusing, uncomfortable, and even painful tricks, and they’re denied everything that’s natural and important to them. Many display stereotypic, repetitive behaviour indicative of extreme stress.