“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than you love yourself.” – Josh Billings.
Dogs are considered one of the most faithful animals out there, if not the most faithful. Humans and dogs have lived side by side for thousands of years.
Dogs have helped mankind with hunting, companionship, and they still help the disabled and assist the law enforcement officers, as well as military personnel.
The philosophy of empowering animals with certain rights sought by all living beings is regarded as "animal rights".
It is the freedom to live a natural life free from human exploitation, needless pain, misery, and premature death.
These faithful friends of ours have often been neglected and their rights have been violated.
In the name of protecting citizens from nuisance supposedly caused by the street dogs, Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) has been relocating stray dogs from the capital.
DSCC began the drive primarily from the Ramna and Dhanmondi areas of the capital, as part of its strategy to relocate 30,000 stray dogs.
DSCC decided to move stray dogs to the other side of the rivers surrounding the capital city, therein transferring the city's dog population to the waste management site, which will inevitably endanger their lives due to food shortage.
The legal provision that addresses this issue is Article 18A of the Constitution. It was integrated into the Constitution through section 12 of the Fifteenth Amendment.
Article 18A compels the State to preserve, improve the environment, and preserve and protect, for present and future citizens, the natural resources, biodiversity, wetlands, forests, and wildlife.
The relocation of dogs without any reasonable cause can potentially violate Section 7 of the Animal Welfare Act, 2019, which stipulates punishment for killing of animals with unnecessary cruelty. Relocating an animal from its natural habitat could potentially endanger their lives as they may face difficulties, including in gathering food, in an unfamiliar environment.
This provision further provides that if any person kills any animal in an unnecessarily cruel manner, he shall be punished with fine which may extend to Tk200, or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with both.
Even though the DSCC officials are claiming that the city corporation is empowered with the Local Government Act (City Corporation), 2009 to declare an animal dangerous and relocate it for the public interest, it hardly justifies their actions as the Animal Welfare Act prohibits anyone from killing or moving any stray animal from its habitat.
Furthermore, if an authority of the government does it, any aggrieved organisation or person may exercise their constitutional right to file a writ petition at the High Court Division under Article 102 of the Constitution.
Several provisions in the Animal Welfare Act 2009 strictly prohibit the DSCC authority from proceeding with their current activities that amount to animal cruelty.
Firstly, Section 6(d) of this Act states that "Cruelty" amounts to restricting an animal to such an extent and in such a manner that makes the animal unable to stand, sit, or function in its natural ways.
Section 6(e) further elaborates that cruelty against animals does include unnecessary hurting of the animal using any sharp instruments.
As we have seen in videos circulating on social media, those dogs were captured without following any scientific or prescribed method.
Section 6(h) highlights annoying the animal to be deemed as cruelty.
In terms of legal implication, cruelty against animals is a punishable crime, and legal actions can be taken in this regard as well.
Section 14 of this Act stipulates the procedure for filing a complaint.
Restricting movements of animal is punishable by up to six months' imprisonment or Tk10,000 fine or both, under section 16(a), while Section 16 (b) provides imprisonment up to two years or Tk50,000 fine or both, in case of an assailant committing damaging or removal of organs of animals.
The current actions and decisions of DSCC authorities also go against some of the international legal principles to which Bangladesh has been a state party.
Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare 2007 (UDAW) is the most notable among them as the Act of 2019 has accommodated the key issues of this particular international legislation.
Another impressive aspect of this Act is that it refers to the standards of the World Organisation of Animal Health (OIE).
Bangladesh is also a ratified State of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) 1973 that has a principal objective to end animal cruelty and ensure animal protection.
Though Bangladesh has made a lot of progress in the last few years in terms of making strict laws, there is a long way to see the proper implementation of these legal frameworks.
Even we did not have any modernised legislation except Cruelty to Animal Act 1920 a couple of years ago.
Other than this Act of 1920, slaughtering animals in public places had been incorporated as a public nuisance indirectly under Section 268, Section 289 of the Penal Code, 1860.
Bangladesh Forum for Legal and Humanitarian Affairs (BFLHA) is a non-profit organisation that works in the field of social justice by promoting human rights, providing pro bono preliminary legal aid, fighting for rule of law, conducting extensive legal research, and organising humanitarian campaigns.