It was indeed the wish of the Hon’ble Supreme Court to see the Part III of our Constitution (especially) being interpreted liberally to do justice to the victims of the society. But the question that now remains is that by liberal interpretation, did the apex court mean to stretch those rights beyond the territory of ‘Homo Sapiens’? I guess it should be answered with a ‘Yes’, considering the recent decision given by the Delhi High Court in the case of People For Animals v. Mohd Mohazzim & Anr. Apparently, the High Court has held that the birds have fundamental rights including the right to live with dignity as per Article 21 and they cannot be subjected to cruelty by anyone.
The High court based its decision on the dicta of the Apex court in the case of Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja & Ors. In this case, the contention was on the validity of inflicting torture on animals through traditional practices and sports like Jallikkattu etc. The court held that such practices are not falling in line with the Prevention of Cruelty Act, 1960. Moreover, the court interpreted that animals’ rights are also protected by the Constitution by the directive principles and fundamental duties provided in Article 48 and 51-A(g) respectively.
Going further, the court in this case, interpreted that the word “life” has been given an expanded definition and any disturbance from the basic environment which includes all forms of life, including animal life, which are necessary for human life, fall within the meaning of Article 21 of the Constitution. So far as animals are concerned, in our view, “life” means something more than mere survival or existence or instrumental value for human-beings, but to lead a life with some intrinsic worth, honor and dignity. Therefore, the animals are also entitled to right to life and dignity.
Article 21 and for that matter, all the other fundamental rights are provided for legal or natural persons. Animals cannot be regarded as a person under Part III. Moreover, Article 21 of the Constitution stipulates that this fundamental right is for the ‘person’ and his life and property. Animals are considered as a property of a person around the globe. Several countries like Austriahave enacted legislations to include animal welfare in their national Constitutions so as to balance the animal owners’ fundamental rights to property and the animals’ interest in freedom from unnecessary suffering or pain, damage and fear.Even if we fetch this right for the animals – owing to its status as the property of its owner – it still prevents torture by the State only to those animals which are in the ownership of the respective Persons. It cannot be stretched to include every animal.
Moreover, this kind of legal interpretation on the fundamental rights may have huge repercussions in the future. Although, infliction of unnecessary pain and torture on the animals should be curbed, depraving their lives should not be made a violation of fundamental right. This can lead indirectly imply that the slaughter of animals for food would also lead to the violation of the fundamental right. When infliction of pain on the birds by caging them could lead to violation of its fundamental rights, killing birds as food can definitely lead to a ban. This is, in fact, denying the men of their right to choose a non-vegetarian life, if they desire so.
It is to be kept in mind that the Constitution is a living document. The interpretations should be flexible and limited to the changing circumstances. The implications should not be too far-fletched or ambiguous that it may provide leeway to bring about unjustified consequences. Therefore, although, the rights of the animals can be protected through statutory and constitutional rights, it should not be given the fundamental right of life.