Despite rule, no pet shop in Delhi registered with state animal welfare board

Updated on Jan 13, 2022 01:15 AM IST

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Pet Shop) Rules, 2018, makes it mandatory for pet shops in Delhi and other states to be registered with the State Animal Welfare Board. An official from the department told HT that they have begun work on registering pet shops

The Indian star tortoise, the sale of which is banned under the Wildlife Protection Act, at a pet shop in the Capital. (Sourced)
The Indian star tortoise, the sale of which is banned under the Wildlife Protection Act, at a pet shop in the Capital. (Sourced)

Over three years after the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Pet Shop) Rules, 2018, was notified, making it mandatory for pet shops in Delhi and other states to be registered with the State Animal Welfare Board (SAWB), not a single pet shop in Delhi has registered so far, according to a Right To Information (RTI) reply from the state animal husbandry department. An official from the department told HT that they have already begun work on registering pet shops.

Aimed at bringing accountability to the pet shop trade in the city, the rules under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Pet Shop) Rules, 2018, also require shops to maintain a record of the different animal species it has, their procurement and sale; details of veterinarian checks; and other criteria to ensure decent living conditions for the captive animals.

A three-month inspection -- from October to December last year -- of over 30 pet shops in Delhi by a team of volunteers from Ahimsa Fellowship, organised by a group of animal welfare NGOs, also found a number of violations at pet shops, ranging from the sale of animals prohibited under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, cramped cages, lack of temperature control systems and no separate quarantine areas for injured or diseased animals, among others.

The lack of data on Delhi’s pet shops had become a problem during the pandemic, when the lockdown in March 2020 forced many to abruptly shut their shops, leaving birds and animals locked up inside. The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) had subsequently issued directions in April, asking SAWBs to evacuate animals stuck inside pet shops with the help of local administration, but the lack of data on such shops posed a problem.

An RTI filed by the Fellowship -- HT has a copy -- in November 2021 shows nothing has changed a year on, with Delhi’s animal husbandry department – under which the SAWB falls – stating it has no record of any pet shop in the city. Sunayna Sibal, an Ahimsa fellow who filed the RTI and also took part in the inspection, said technically, pet shops are operating ‘illegally’ and violating several norms in the process.

“Ninety-five percent of the pet shops had cages which were too small for the bird or animal they were housing. There were no exhausts or temperature-control systems in most shops, making it uncomfortable for these animals and no pet shop had a separate quarantine area for sick or diseased animals. We also found shops displaying animals outside, leaving them exposed to the elements,” said Sibal, stating they discovered at least seven species prohibited for sale under the Wildlife Protection Act at these shops.

“These included the Indian star tortoise, scaly-breasted munias, quails, lesser whistling ducks, parakeets, grey francolins and Indian silverbills among others. An inspection by the SAWB would have led to these animals being seized and the shop sealed, but the lack of accountability is causing these animals to be sold openly,” she added.

Asher Jesudoss, who was also part of the inspection, said with no trail of sale and purchase being maintained by pet shops, it was difficult to ascertain how the animals were being procured. “The rules make it mandatory to maintain a record of the sale and purchase, to prevent forced breeding and illegal procurement of animals. We are unable to check that currently,” he said.

Ahimsa fellow Akshita Kukreja said they shared a report on the inspection with Delhi chief secretary Vijay Dev on December 28, 2021, but they are yet to receive a response. “Another RTI will be filed soon on whether any action has been taken or not,” said Kukreja.

Pointing out that each registration of a pet shop will fetch the government 5,000, Gauri Maulekhi, trustee at the People for Animals (PFA), said mandatory registration is one that will benefit the exchequer as well. Maulekhi estimated that there are over 500 pet shops in the Capital.

“Pet trade is a multi-crore business which was completely unregulated till 2018. Now, the new rules provide for each such business to pay a registration fee to the state government, abide by the conditions imposed and provide receipts to the customers. Keeping multiple species in dirty, crammed spaces is not only cruelty to the animals but a public health hazard too,” said Maulekhi, adding that despite several pleas over the last few years, the development department of Delhi had failed to act.

An official from the state animal husbandry department, on condition of anonymity, told HT that the department had data of around 150 pet shops in Delhi. “So far, we have only received two applications for registration. Advertisements and notices have been issued in the past, asking pet shops to register themselves with us, but a fresh campaign will soon be launched to ensure the same,” said the official, adding that district-level officers have also been asked to prepare a database of pet shops under their jurisdiction.

“This will ensure there is no cruelty taking place at any pet shop in Delhi. We will not immediately fine any shop and some more time will be given to them to register, failing which will result in the shop being sealed,” the official added.

The development department meanwhile did not respond to HT’s queries.

‘Not an easy process’

Pet shop owners, when contacted, said the lack of transparency in the registration process was making it difficult for most to complete the process. “A number of owners tried registering through the website, but the state animal welfare board’s website does not function a majority of the time. They also do not have a physical office currently, making it difficult to approach,” said Pawan Garg, owner of the Bittoo Pet Shop in Safdarjung Enclave.

Lakshay Kumar, owner at the Fancy Fish Aquarium and Pet Shop in Rohini, too supported mandatory registrations. “There is no clarity on the registration process, but all pet shops want to get registered,” he said.

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