An Overview On Animal Rights



  1. Introduction 
  2. Need For Animal Rights 
  3. Laws Promoting Animal Rights 
  4. Right Authorities To File A Complaint 
  5. Right Of Animals 
  6. Latest Judgements 
  7. Conclusion 


Animals play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance. Recently, there has been a significant emphasis on the protection and welfare of animals in the country. Each year, billions of animals endure exploitation by humans, leading to suffering and harm. Legislation like the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, aim to safeguard animal life.

The Indian Constitution acknowledges the sanctity of animal life, making it a fundamental duty for citizens to protect and treat animals with dignity. This article will delve into various laws and regulations concerning wildlife protection in India.

Need For Animal Rights 

Many of us engage in activities like consuming meat, using leather products, visiting zoos and circuses, and keeping pets in cages without considering the impact on animals. Animals, like humans, experience pain, pleasure, fear, and love. Animal rights advocates argue for recognizing animals’ inherent value and protecting them from suffering and exploitation. This movement challenges the traditional view of animals existing solely for human use.

Prejudice is the only justification for denying rights to others, whether based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or species. Treating one animal as a companion and another as food, solely based on species, is a form of prejudice.

According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), animal welfare theories operate under the premise that animals possess interests and rights, which can be compromised if there are substantial human gains to justify the trade-off.

Contrarily, the concept of animal rights asserts that animals, akin to humans, possess intrinsic interests that should not be forfeited or bartered solely for human benefit. Similar to human rights, animal rights are not absolute and can be subject to limitations and conflicts. Animal rights advocates argue against using animals for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation.

Supporters of animal welfare prioritise humane treatment for animals, particularly those in captivity, while recognizing certain justifiable uses of animals by humans. They emphasise the importance of minimising animal suffering and ensuring a humane standard of care. Extremism can exist among both animal rights proponents and animal welfare supporters.

Animal rights activists often advocate for total cessation of animal consumption to uphold animal rights equivalent to human rights. Conversely, animal welfare proponents believe that ethical treatment of animals, without cruelty, justifies their use and consumption.

Moreover, the court highlighted various forms of animal cruelty, including experimentation, dogfighting, hoarding, genetic manipulation, and animal smuggling, emphasising the need for comprehensive measures to combat these abuses.

Researchers employ non-human animals in laboratories for conducting tests, experiments, and research on various biological issues. This includes testing new medications, treatment methods, and surgical techniques to ensure their safety for human use. However, this practice often subjects animals to distress, pain, and even death solely for human benefit, infringing upon their right to life.

Apart from medical tests, animals are also used to test food, drugs, cosmetics, and other products. India took a significant step against animal cruelty by banning animal testing for cosmetics on May 23, 2014. The Drugs and Cosmetics (Fifth Amendment) Rules, 2014, prohibited the import of cosmetic items tested on animals, marking India as the first country in South Asia to take such a stand.

Despite this progress, animal testing continues for drug development purposes. While animal tests may yield positive results, they do not guarantee safety or effectiveness in humans. This underscores the need for new legislation and amendments to existing laws to minimise animal drug testing and promote alternative methods.

Despite being illegal, dogfighting remains prevalent in India, serving as a form of entertainment and profit where trained dogs fight for spectators’ pleasure. This activity occurs in both rural and urban settings, often resulting in severe injuries or death for the dogs involved. Additionally, various other animal fights and races, such as cockfighting and bullfighting, also take place.

Genetic engineering in animals often leads to their creation solely to fulfil human requirements, treating them merely as possessions without the right to life. The manipulation of animal genetics primarily benefits humans but comes at the cost of animal lives and well-being. Transgenic animals, while potentially more productive, also face heightened risks of contracting infectious diseases.

Currently, India lacks specific legislation to address animal cruelty resulting from genetic modification. However, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, oversees genetically modified organisms and their products. The regulations governing this area in India are outlined in the Rules for the manufacture, use, import, and storage of hazardous microorganisms, genetically engineered organisms, or cells, 1989, which are part of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

Animals in circuses often suffer abuse and cruelty behind the scenes. They are forced to perform dangerous tricks like jumping through fire hoops or riding bicycles, which goes against their natural instincts. Sloth bears are even made to dance, causing them great distress.

Since 2001, circuses must adhere to strict rules under the Performing Animals (Registration) Rules, 2001, part of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. This ensures that animals cannot be displayed or used in performances without a proper licence. Additionally, the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, prohibits using wild animals in shows. A notable court case, N.R. Nair and Ors. v. Union of India (2001), emphasised that certain wild animals cannot be trained or exhibited for entertainment.

The illegal trading and smuggling of animals have also faced legal action. In the case of Gauri Maulekhi v. Union of India and Ors. (2016), the Supreme Court put a stop to the illegal trafficking of cattle to Nepal for the Gadhimai festival, a major event involving animal sacrifices.

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Laws Promoting Animal Rights 

The Indian government has introduced numerous provisions to protect the welfare and rights of animals, recognizing their voicelessness and inability to express their feelings. Some of these legislations are:

The Constitution, being the supreme law, incorporates crucial provisions concerning animal protection within its Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles of State Policy.

Article 21 of the Constitution broadens the concept of ‘life’ to encompass all life forms, including animals, which are deemed vital for human existence. Additionally, the right to dignity and fair treatment extends to animals, highlighting the significance of animal rights.

Article 48 A underscores the state’s duty to preserve and enhance the environment, including forests, wildlife, and ecological balance.

Article 51 A (g) imposes a fundamental duty on every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment, showing compassion towards living creatures.

These constitutional provisions, introduced through the 42nd amendment in 1976, serve as guiding principles for legislation, policies, and laws aimed at furthering animal protection at both central and state levels. The concurrent list (Seventh Schedule) empowers both the central and state governments to enact laws concerning the prevention of cruelty to animals and the protection of wild animals and birds.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was passed by Parliament in 1960 with the primary goal of preventing the infliction of pain or suffering on animals and amending laws related to cruelty prevention. The term ‘animal’ is defined broadly as any living creature apart from humans.

Chapter II of the Act is particularly significant, establishing the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) to safeguard animals from unnecessary pain. The AWBI is tasked with various functions:

  1. Advising the central government on amendments and regulations to minimise animal suffering during experiments, transportation, etc.
  2. Promoting financial aid, shelters, and rescue facilities for elderly animals.
  3. Providing guidance on medical care and support for animal hospitals.
  4. Conducting educational campaigns and raising awareness about animal welfare through literature, lectures, advertisements, etc.
  5. Offering advice to the central government on general animal welfare matters.

Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act outlines various forms of cruelty towards animals, including beating, overloading, torturing, and causing unnecessary harm, employing sick or unfit animals for work, administering harmful substances, subjecting animals to suffering during transportation, confining animals inadequately, chaining them unreasonably, failing to provide sufficient food, water, and shelter, abandoning animals without care, allowing owned animals to roam and suffer or perish, selling suffering animals without cause, using harmful methods for euthanasia, using animals as bait for entertainment, organising or participating in animal fights, and involving animals in shooting competitions after captivity.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, excludes certain activities from being considered as cruelty towards animals if they are carried out in a prescribed manner. These include procedures like dehorning of cattle, castration, or branding of any animal, as well as the destruction of stray dogs in lethal chambers, provided these actions adhere to prescribed guidelines. Additionally, the act does not consider the extermination or destruction of any animal under the authority of existing laws as an act of cruelty.

However, the Act specifies that any person found committing acts mentioned in Section 11, which are deemed cruel to animals, shall be punishable. For a first offence, the individual faces a fine ranging from ten to fifty rupees. In cases of subsequent offences within three years of the initial offence, the penalty increases to a fine ranging from twenty-five to one hundred rupees, along with imprisonment for up to three months, or both.

In 2010, the Lok Sabha announced plans for the Ministry of Environment and Forests to introduce the Animal Welfare Act, aiming to impose stricter penalties for animal cruelty in India. In response, the Animal Welfare Board of India drafted the Animal Welfare Act, 2011, with the intent to replace the existing Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and broaden the scope of punishable animal abuse.

According to the proposed Act, first-time offenders could face imprisonment of up to two years and a fine of up to twenty-five thousand rupees. Subsequent offences could lead to a maximum of three years in prison and a fine of up to one lakh rupees. However, the approval of this Bill by Parliament is still pending.

In 2016, in response to increasing incidents of animal abuse and the lenient punishments under the 1960 Act, the AWBI drafted a new proposal called the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Amendment) Bill, 2016. This measure was advocated by the AWB and various NGOs, urging the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change to present the bill in Parliament for consideration. However, as of now, the bill has not been enacted into law.

Several rules have been established under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to regulate various aspects concerning animals:

  1. Draught and Pack Animals Rules, 1965: These rules specify the maximum and minimum load that pack animals, used for carrying loads, can bear. It also limits their work hours to nine hours a day without adequate rest, particularly in areas where temperatures exceed 37 degrees Celsius, especially from noon to 3 p.m.
  2. Performing Animals Rules, 1973: This rule aims to regulate the use of animals in performances. It prohibits the use of animals in public performances unless the organiser holds a valid licence under the Parent Act. Certain animals like bears, tigers, monkeys, panthers, and lions are also banned from such performances, with exceptions for animals used for police or military purposes.
  3. Transport of Animals Rules, 1978: These guidelines govern the transportation of various animals, including monkeys, poultry, and cattle. They mandate specific requirements for the size of transport cages to ensure animals’ comfort and safety during transportation.
  4. Slaughter House Rules, 2001: These rules dictate that animals can only be slaughtered in recognized or registered slaughterhouses. The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, also prohibits animal sacrifice.
  5. Animal Birth Control (Dog) Rules, 2001: This rule outlines guidelines for controlled breeding, vaccination, sterilisation, and euthanasia of dogs. It authorises qualified veterinary doctors appointed by a committee to euthanize incurably ill or injured street dogs using humane methods and specific drugs. Additionally, it provides procedures for handling rabid or infected dogs.
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Section 428 and 429 of the Indian Penal Code outline legal penalties for offences related to harming and killing animals. Section 428 deals with misconduct involving animals valued at ten rupees or more, stating that those found guilty of killing, maiming, poisoning, or rendering an animal useless shall face imprisonment for up to ten years, a fine, or both. On the other hand, Section 429 covers offences against animals valued at 50 rupees or more, imposing imprisonment for a term of up to five years, a fine, or both.

Right Authorities To File A Complaint 

To file a complaint regarding animal cruelty, concerned citizens can reach out to various organisations and authorities. They may contact their local police station or the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to report instances of animal abuse and seek assistance in enforcing the law against the perpetrator. Additionally, complaints can be directed to senior government officials at the State or District Animal Welfare Board, as well as to the MLA representing the area where the incident occurred.

When filing a complaint with the police, the victim or observer of animal cruelty should provide a concise written statement along with any relevant photographs as evidence. Legal action can be taken against the accused under Sections 428 and 429 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), both of which are cognizable and bailable offences.

Rights Of Animals 

Right To Life: As per Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, every individual is entitled to the right to life and personal liberty, which cannot be denied except under lawful circumstances. 

Article 21 safeguards not only human rights but also the broader concept of life, encompassing all forms of life crucial for human survival, including animal life. The Court broadened the interpretation of ‘life’ beyond mere existence to include intrinsic value, dignity, and honourable treatment, emphasising the importance of preserving the basic environment necessary for life to thrive.

Right To Preservation :Under the Directive Principles of State Policy, India mandates modern and scientific approaches in agriculture and animal husbandry, specifically emphasising the preservation and enhancement of cow, calf, and other milk- and draught-beef cattle breeds while prohibiting their slaughter. This ban on cow slaughter holds deep cultural and religious significance in India, as cows are revered as sacred animals by several religious communities like Hindus, Jains, Zoroastrians, and Buddhists.

Right To Compassionate Treatment: Article 51A (g) of the Indian Constitution mandates us to safeguard wildlife and show compassion towards all living beings, granting animals the right to compassionate treatment. The Supreme Court has highlighted that Article 51A (g) and Article 51A (h) serve as the foundation of animal rights jurisprudence in India.

No Animal Slaughtering :Animal sacrifice is a sensitive issue in Indian culture, and despite legal prohibitions against public slaughter for religious purposes, the actual practice often defies these laws. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, expressly prohibits public animal slaughter, mandating that slaughterhouses be designated within municipal corporation limits in every state. These slaughterhouses must adhere to a specific capacity relative to the local population and cannot permit the slaughter of sick or pregnant animals. Furthermore, Rule 3 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughterhouse) Rules, 2001, explicitly prohibits animal slaughter, including chickens, anywhere except in designated slaughterhouses.

Only Right Authority Can Escort Stray Dogs: As per the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, enacted under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, controlling stray dog populations and preventing the spread of rabies is advocated through sterilisation and immunisation rather than capturing and killing animals. In case of a conflict between these Rules and any local regulations, the Rules take precedence unless the local laws are more stringent. Furthermore, it is the duty of local authorities to ensure that sterilised stray dogs can be identified and returned to their original territory.

Right To Food And Water :Section 11(1)(h) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 defines cruelty towards animals as the act of an owner not providing adequate food, water, shelter, or exercise to their animals. Neglecting an animal’s basic needs or keeping it chained or confined for extended periods can result in punishment of up to three months in jail, a fine, or both.

Right of Monkeys As Special Species: Monkeys, particularly langurs, hold a special status as a protected species under Schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The possession, trade, sale, or hiring out of langurs is strictly prohibited by law, with violators facing penalties of up to three years in jail, a fine, or both. Despite these regulations, instances of government organisations engaging in illegal activities like hiring poachers and issuing ID cards to langur “owners” have been observed. To address this, the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau issued a notification on October 15, 2012, clarifying that langurs cannot be hired, and any existing instances of employing langurs must be ceased promptly.

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No Cosmetic Testing: PETA India’s advocacy led to significant changes in the cosmetic industry with the introduction of the new Cosmetics Rules, 2020 by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. These updated regulations established a comprehensive framework governing the testing, production, sale, display, and importation of cosmetic products. Notably, the rules strictly enforce the ban on importing cosmetics tested on animals, making India the first Asian nation to implement such a prohibition. One of the crucial aspects of these rules is the acknowledgment that any harm inflicted on animals cannot be justified by the potential advantages of new cosmetics.

Hunting Is Prohibited :Section 9 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, explicitly prohibits the hunting of specific wild animals like Indian Elephants, Indian Lions, Snow Leopards, Tigers, Great Indian Bustards, among others. In a legal challenge presented in Mahaveer Nath v. UOI (2019), the petitioner questioned the limitations imposed by this section, arguing that it infringed upon his right to livelihood. He contended that the prohibition under Section 9 prevented him from keeping snakes, thus violating his rights to trade and life as guaranteed by Article 19(1)(g) and Article 21 of the Constitution, respectively. However, the Court clarified that while Article 19(1)(g) provides for the right to trade, it is subject to reasonable restrictions in the interest of public welfare.

Right Against Harm And Mischief : Regarding animal protection, Sections 428 and 429 of the Indian Penal Code establish legal provisions against maiming, killing, poisoning, or disabling any animal, including throwing acid or harmful substances on cows. Deliberately causing harm or death to dogs, cats, or cows on roads is also prohibited under the Act, with violators facing fines or imprisonment for up to five years. Incidents of such offences can be reported to local police stations or animal protection organisations for appropriate action.

Feeding Poisonous Food Is Prohibited : It’s not against the law to feed stray animals on the streets. In fact, it’s a moral duty for citizens to provide food for these animals as they rely on us for survival. However, intentionally feeding them harmful substances or drugs is not a moral obligation. Section 11(1)(c) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, deems such actions as illegal.

Right to Spacious Environment :Section 11(1)(e) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, makes it unlawful to confine any animal, whether it’s a pet or a stray, in a cage or container that causes undue suffering or pain. Containers used to enclose animals must be adequately spacious, allowing the animal to move comfortably. 

Displaying For Entertainment Is Prohibited : Furthermore, Section 22 of the same Act prohibits the exhibition or training of animals for entertainment purposes unless the person responsible possesses valid government documentation permitting such activities. Additionally, the Central Government holds the authority to prohibit the display of specific animals for entertainment by officially notifying it in the government’s gazette.

Latest Judgements

In the case of Animal Welfare Board v. A. Nagaraja & Ors (2014), the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Animal Welfare Board (AWBI), establishing that Article 51A (g) of the Indian Constitution serves as the cornerstone of Animal Rights. The court also extended the protection of the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution to encompass all living beings, including animals.

In the State of Bihar v. Murad Ali Baig (1989), the court addressed the issue of hunting elephants, evaluating whether such actions were justified under the Indian penal code and the Wildlife Protection Act. The court referred to Sections 10 and 11 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which list protected animals. The Supreme Court ruled that since elephants were classified under Schedule 1 of protected animals, their hunting was strictly prohibited.

Additionally, the court highlighted a key distinction between the offence of hunting outlined in the Wildlife Protection Act and that provided under Section 429 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The court emphasised that these offences have divergent elements and should not be conflated as identical.

In Naveen Raheja v. Union of India (2001), the case revolved around the distressing incident of a tiger being skinned at a zoo in Andhra Pradesh. The court expressed deep concern over the lack of protection afforded to the tiger, a responsibility that fell upon those tasked with safeguarding such animals. Consequently, the Supreme Court summoned the chairperson of the central zoo authority to outline measures aimed at protecting and preserving tiger species in zoos and reserved forests, leading to the issuance of protective orders for tigers.


India, known for its rich cultural diversity, places significant emphasis on wildlife conservation through various programs aimed at environmental protection. The country has enacted several legislations focusing on the protection and conservation of animals, ensuring their rights are recognized alongside human rights.

It’s evident that India has ample laws in place to safeguard animal interests, reflecting the country’s commitment to environmental stewardship. However, the major challenge lies in the implementation and administration of these laws. Despite the existence of robust legal frameworks, there is often a lack of stringent enforcement, leading to increasing conflicts between humans and animals.

Nevertheless, the Indian judiciary has played a commendable role in addressing the gaps in animal welfare laws and ensuring timely protection of animal rights, showcasing a proactive approach towards wildlife conservation and environmental sustainability.


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