Animals as Legal Entities

Animals as Legal Entities

Updated on 3 May, 2019

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Context:

  • Well, the Uttarakhand High Court has declared the entire animal kingdom i.e. all animals, which include avian and aquatic species as legal entities with rights, duties and also the liabilities of living person.
Background
  • Well, the Division Bench of the High Court was hearing PIL by the Narayan Dutt Bhatt, which is filed in the year of 2014 where petitioner had sought directions to restrict the movement of the horse carts (Tongas) between India and the Nepal through the Banbasa in Champawat district of the Uttarakhand. However, the High Court had enlarged scope of petition in larger public interest to promote the protection and also the welfare of the animals.
Court Ruling
  • Well, the court ruled that the entire animal kingdom, which include avian and aquatic ones are legal entities and also have distinct persona with corresponding rights, duties and the liabilities of living person.
  • However, it directed the State Government that no animal, including horses moving between India and Nepal, carries excess weight.
  • In fact, it also banned use of any sharp equipment throughout state to avoid bruises, swelling, abrasions or severe pain to animals.
  • Even, it also directed all veterinary doctors across the Uttarakhand to mandatorily treat animals brought to them by the citizens of the state.
  • Furthermore, if animal cannot be brought to the doctor, then the veterinary must personally visit and attend the stray cattle, or animal without any delay.
What is a Legal entity?
  • Well, in common law jurisprudence, there are two types of persons, natural persons or human beings and also an artificial person, which are also known as juristic persons, juridical entity or legal person other than the natural person.
  • The legal or juristic persons are created by the law and recognised as legal entity, having distinct identity, legal personality and besides duties and also the rights.
  • However, they include the private business firm or entity, non-governmental or government organisations, trusts and societies, besides others.
Earlier judgment
  • The earlier same Uttrakhand bench had declared that Ganga and Yamuna, all their tributaries, Glaciers like Gangotri, Yamunotri and the Forest as living person with all corresponding rights, duties and the liabilities.
  • However, the director of the Namami Gange programme, the Uttarakhand Chief Secretary, and also the Advocate-General of Uttrakhand would serve as “parents” for rivers
  • The court also directed Uttrakhand Environment Protection & Pollution Control Board (UEPPCB) strictly to seal the industries, hotels, ashrams and the other establishments, which are discharging the sewerage in the rivers.
  • However, the judgment of Uttrakhand HC is stayed by the Supreme Court later on a plea by the uttrakhand government. In fact, the petition said that the high court verdict raised several legal questions and also the administrative issues.
Other cases
  • Well, the ecuador was the first country to grant rights to the nature under its Constitution
  • New Zealand parliament has recognized the Whanganui Riverans ecosystem as living being
  • However, the Bolivia legislated the “Law of the Rights of Mother Earth” which include detailed rights vested in the environment, and also the protection from the commercial exploitation and also the ecological degradation.
Issues in Judgment
  • In this case the court has suo motu expanded the scope of the petition (which was asking for a specific relief) and passed a sweeping law. This is an another example of Judicial legislation
  • The precedent that the court has used to establish rivers (and now animals) as legal entities was by the legislature of New Zealand and not by the judiciary. This raise concerns of Judicial interference in legislative domain
  • Guidelines issued by court is without much public debate. Most of the time it raises serious implementation issue.
  • The verdict raises several legal and administrative issues
    • The extension of right to animals and rivers would also extend duties to them which is not practical
    • There is no clarity on legal status of animals and how it would be held responsible for their actions
    • It would be difficult to access the implementation of judgment
  • The law is not clear about the status of pet animals
  • There is no clarity about the punishment on violation
  • There are numerous laws for welfare and protection of animal is already existing. Critics says adding new guidelines would create more confusion.
  • In India, some species such as cattle are protected under the constitution while some species are commercially exploited. The court judgment treat all species equal
  • Recognition of all animal as legal person would have to eliminate the use of animal as labour and bodies for our agricultural, medicinal, nutritional and recreational needs
  • One major criticism is that by forcing animals to be governed as persons under man-made legal systems, we continue to assert human supremacy over other species.
Way forward
  • In order to protect the welfare of animal the government should frame a comprehensive law which recognize rights, duties and liabilities.
  • Before framing any law the government should also consider the grievances of various stakeholders.
  • Government should implement existing animal welfare laws like, PCA, the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972,etc. in more stringent manner
  • The court should also refrain from interfering into legislative domain. The problem with such judicial decisions is their binding nature like legislation. While a law passed by the legislature can be repealed or amended, court decisions cannot be changed unless stayed by a higher court.
  • There is need of division of species according to their conservation status. The species like the chicken and the goats can’t have similar protection status like that of tigers and elephants.
Question: Discuss the implications of the recent ruling of the Uttarakhand High Court declaring  the entire animal kingdom as legal entity. Read More: The WhistleBlower Bill, 2015


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