Every so often, Leeladhar Jadhav leads a big rescue operation. It is his favourite part of the job. On his last mission, tipped off by a concerned citizen, he and a colleague raided a dingy pet shop in the heart of Crawford Market. Dressed in their khaki police uniforms, they searched the store from end to end until they finally unearthed, in one dark corner, a stack of filthy cages.
Inside were 37 fluffy, squawking parrot chicks and 33 turtles, trapped with no food, water or space to move.
The animals were rescued and taken to the lush, green Parel complex of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the pet shop owners to the local police station.
A few hours later, though, the latter had been let off with a fine of Rs. 550.
This is one of the hardest parts of Jadhav’s job — knowing that most offenders will get away with barely a slap on the wrist.
“The fines are just too meagre,” says tall, well-built animal inspector. “People don’t take them seriously.”
Jadhav, 42, is part of a 15-strong force of animal inspectors headquartered at the SPCA, operating as the special arm of the Mumbai police in charge of protecting animal rights in the city.
“To enter this profession, you have to be an animal lover,” he says.
It was his love of all things furry and slithery that led Jadhav, a commerce graduate, from a job as production supervisor at a jewellery factory to an interview for a post in this special division.
That was 17 years ago. Since then, he has spent 9 to 13 hours a day, six days a week, patrolling the streets and scouring barns, stables and slaughterhouses in his designated areas for signs of animals being mistreated.
With just 15 animal inspectors and a city full of animals, the job is exhausting and unending — each inspector is assigned an area with a radius of at least 5 km, and the team collectively registers at least 400 cases a month. “But I am proud of what I do,” says Jadhav.
The father of two begins his day at 5 am in his one-room-kitchen flat in Nallasopara.
While Jadhav has a bath, his wife Geeta cooks two meals and gets the children ready for school.
The family then eats a breakfast of roti-sabzi together, and by 6.30 am, Jadhav is on a train for Andheri, where he switches to the Harbour Line to get to the Mazagaon court by 8 am.
Part of his job is attending hearings of animal-related cases, providing testimony when required and keeping track of repeat offenders.
A sort of mediator and activist, he also files complaints at police stations against those mistreating animals and helps sort out disputes over pets in housing societies — all for a salary that started at Rs. 1,500 and has since risen to Rs. 12,000 a month.
“Most of the court cases have to do with abuse by owners of bullock carts or horse carriages, who tend to overwork their animals,” says Jadhav.
By 11 am, Jadhav is out in the field, peeking into bylanes, responding to calls and following up anonymous tips.
On a good day, Jadhav finishes his rounds by 6 pm and heads home in time for dinner with the family.
“My children are always eager to know of my adventures during the day,” says Jadhav.
“A lot of people have no feelings for animals and question the legitimacy of my job. I spend a lot of his time explaining the concept of animal rights to citizens. Some people never understand. But when they do, it’s nice to know that I have made a difference.”
(This weekly feature explores the lives of those unseen Mumbaiites essential to your day)