Do domesticated horses, licenced to be used for the purpose of joy rides to children on the Ridge in Shimla have a right to shelter during rain and snow?
A division bench of Himachal Pradesh High Court has answered the question in positive, while emphasising that, “Life, in the context of animals, does not mean mere survival or existence or instrumental value for human beings, but also some intrinsic worth, honour and dignity".
A bench of Acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Sandeep Sharma said so while hearing a petition it took up suo motu on a letter written to the court by one Nidhi Bhalla, a resident of Shimla, highlighting the plight of horses (ponies) stationed on the Ridge (Shimla) where they are tethered to a pole and left covered with a plastic sheet in the open to face the difficult weather such as rain and snow.
Initially, Ankush Dass, senior advocate, acting as amicus curiae, was of the view that a temporary structure, totally gelling with the environment, can be raised on the Ridge for giving shelter to the ponies but the idea did not find favour with the bench as it was of the view that with the passage of time, the authority may take a decision to build a permanent structure at the site of temporary structure thus destroying the heritage value and character of the place.
The Municipal Corporation, Shimla identified a place, immediately below the Ridge, towards the northern side, i.e. hill towards the local bus stand, where the ponies can be tethered during rain and snow.
The Commissioner, Municipal Corporation, Shimla, told the bench that necessary action for clearing and cleaning the passage; removing the encroachments, if any; and making the place, so identified, to be fully useable, shall be taken up at the earliest and the place made available for use, definitely on or before February 28.
Pony Rides Part Of Heritage, But Animals Too Have Fundamental Rights
The bench did not stop at identifying a place for sheltering ponies during rain and snow.
It was moved by the plight of the animals and stressed on their fundamental rights under the Constitution.
"Shimla is a heritage town. The Ridge is part of its heritage, so also pony rides for children on the Ridge, intrinsically is part of the very same heritage," it said.
At present, 17 persons have “Horse Licence” issued by the Superintendent Estate, Municipal Corporation, Shimla.
"Whereas the owners run for shelter, they leave their horses, covered with a plastic sheet, tethered to the pole, in the open, unattended, to only suffer the vagaries of the weather," the court noted.
"In our considered view, concept of inalienable rights, within the framework of Rule of Law, applies as much to animal life as it would to humans. The vagaries and harshness of the weather, at times, is cruel in nature. Neither the horse owners nor the authorities issuing the licences can adopt an attitude of indifference to this suffering, causing immense cruelty," it said.
Referring to Article 51-A of the Constitution of India, it said it is the duty of every citizen to not only preserve the rich heritage of a composite culture, but also show compassion to all living creatures. To similar effect is the duty cast upon the State. One has to exhibit compassion for all living creatures.
Relying on the decision of the Supreme Court in Animal Welfare Board of India v A Nagaraja & Others, it said, "Article 21 covers under its umbrella every species and all forms of life in the environment."
"In our considered view, during rain and snow, the horses, which are domesticated, cannot be allowed to be kept in the open, for it causes cruelty to them. Such an act is against public morale and order. Animals do have emotion, though they may not have the language of humans, but animal-lovers do understand their such emotions, expressed in various forms, including sound, body language and behaviour. In our considered view, animals do have a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution," the high court observed.
Noting that in the instant case, there is no conflict of interest between animals and humans, the bench said, "On the contrary, man needs to attend to the animals. Their sufferings need to be lessened and life ameliorated."
"... pony ride being an intrinsic part of heritage of the town, the authorities are duty bound to ensure that the owners and the stakeholders do not cause any cruelty to the horses," the bench concluded.