HC‘shocked’: Welfare board finds just 28 of 740 registered circus animals
The Delhi high court on Tuesday expressed shock over the huge gap in the number of circus animals found by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) during a survey of circuses across the country as compared to the number of animals registered with it.
During the hearing, a bench of justice Vipin Sanghi and justice Rajnish Bhatnagar was informed by one of the petitioner counsels that though the AWBI had around 740 circus animals registered with it, a recent survey by the Board could find only 28 of them.
The court then sought to know from the AWBI and the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) what had happened to the remaining animals. It asked both parties to file an affidavit disclosing the status of the circus animals registered with the Board and listed the matter for further hearing to January 2021.
The court was hearing pleas by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Federation of Indian Animals Protection Organisation (FIAPO) for protecting circus animals stranded across the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This is a serious issue. Of the 740 (animals) registered with you (AWBI), you have only 28 to answer for. What happened to the rest of them,” the high court asked AWBI.
“One shocking thing that has been revealed is that of the 740 animals, information is available with regard to only 28, leaving a massive gap,” the court said, noting the submissions of the FIAPO counsel, senior advocate Dayan Krishnan, said.
The court also asked the Board why it had only inspected 19 of the 28 circuses in the country. It also directed the Board to inform the court about how many circuses are operational and what had happened to animals in circuses that have shut down.
An official from CZA told the bench that animals of closed circuses and those not registered with AWBI are the concern and responsibility of the respective state wildlife authority.
It further told the court that the authorities were in the process of withdrawing recognition given to the Great Golden Circus in Gujarat, the only one in the country that is recognised under the Wildlife Protection Act.
Action is being taken against Golden Circus for alleged violations with regard to maintenance and display of captive elephants, the CZA told the judges.
PETA India, represented by advocates Aman Hingorani and Swati Sumbly, has claimed in its plea that due to the Covid-19 outbreak and the resultant lockdown, circuses are finding it difficult to feed the animals which are now slowly starving to death.
The FIAPO, which is a group of 100 organisations working for animal rights, has challenged the constitutional validity of sections 21 to 27 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act so far as they permit exhibition and training of animals in relation to circus acts.