Stray dogs, as name suggests, are a pariah in our country, no shelter to live, no medical facilities to avail, diseased neglected often victim of public wrath and what not and Jammu is also facing the same situation. Earlier municipalities used to exterminate thousands of dogs annually to check their population but after November 2015, the Supreme Court asked all states and union territories to follow central rules, which ban killing stray dogs in India.
The court observed that “It needs no great learning to appreciate that dog or animals are not encroachers on earth and there is no question of eliminating them ….it is the duty of every citizen to have compassion to animals including dogs….All state functionaries such as municipalities cannot ignore this obligation”. India has the largest number of strays in the world, with over 35 million. At almost 21,000, India also accounts for more than a third of all rabies-related deaths. India could be fighting a lost battle against rabies, because with only 15 percent of all stray dogs vaccinated, a rabies-free South Asia by 2020, as is the WHO’s dream, looks far from reach. While the FBI enlists animal cruelty as a group 1 felony in the US (alongside homicide and arson), acts of cruelty towards animals in India comes with a paltry Rs 50 fine as per the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. This shows the conditions most strays have to encounter. Last year, a medical student threw a dog from the rooftop of a Chennai building, filming the entire act. In Bengaluru, a woman flung eight puppies on a boulder, smashing their skulls in the process. Both perpetrators got out on bail after paying a fine. There is simply no one to protect them.
People think the ABC programme ( Animal Birth Control) is only for the sake of the human population and rabies control. The animal rights/welfare view is that dogs are part of the community with ties to local people, having different functions and they should not be seen as a threat but as a valuable part of daily life. Just like the human population they deserve first aid and shelter when they are in distress. This is even more vital than the ABC/AR program. Community based dog care projects need to be established in every town, village and city. Just like there are government hospitals for people everywhere, the Animal Husbandry hospitals need to change course and be assisted by AWOs. At present they are only serving the bio industry and the owners of food animals. Free medical care for the local street dogs at the in and outpatient departments of their clinic/shelter, rescue of dogs in distress/cruelty or accidents and ambulance service, free lifesaving surgeries for dogs after accidents, cancer, amputations, pinning of fractures etc and lifetime care for those dogs that cannot be returned to their territory or owner are basic needs of stray dogs. Veterinarians have to be trained to serve and respect the lives of all animals. It is a general experience that only an extensive local and continuous ABC programme reduces the number of pups being born; there are less distemper/parvo cases, fewer accidents, less cruelty cases and more willingness from the local population to bring sick animals for free treatment. Life of the dogs in such area has much improved: they fight less for females, for food and are accepted by the local communities as there is less fear of rabies and less overcrowding. In fact, stray dogs and cats need very little – a little bit of food, some medicines, shelter and the most important thing they need is love and care.
But NGO efforts have been focused on urban centre, with little attention towards rural areas. Dogs continue to roam the streets of rural India unneutered and unvaccinated. Indians are exposed to 17.4 million dog bites a year, but only 15 percent of all dogs are vaccinated. And according to WHO, 70 percent of the dog population needs to be vaccinated in order to limit rabies. According to the WHO report an estimated 45 percent of all deaths from rabies occur in South- East Asia out of which about 36 percent of the world’s deaths from rabies happen in India itself. The biggest reason behind the problem is open garbage. Stray dogs rely on garbage while searching for eatables. Countries that have garbage kept in bins and are cleaned regularly see lesser number of stray dogs. There is urgent need of starting this ABC progammes in rural areas as well. ABC programme has been developed by WHO as the only practical solution to control the street dog population and eradicate rabies. In cities where it has been wholeheartedly implemented dog numbers and bites have reduced and these are now zero rabies zones. Based on this success, GoI formulated the Dog Rules 2001 which directs that municipalities work with animal welfare organizations to implement the ABC programme. These Rules make it illegal to either kill or remove dogs from any area as it is crucial to the success of the programme that dogs remain in their own areas to be systematically covered by the programme.
Coming to Jammu, in December 2014 JMC started the ABC programme after much deliberations due to non availability of infrastructure, finally started from Roop Nagar Animal Care Centre building after special permission from DC Jammu at that time and within first year 576 sterilizations were done with the help of Animal Husbandry Department. In January 2016 suddenly one day JMC Commissioner outsourced ABC Programme to ‘S.A.V.E’ without following any codal formalities or guidelines by Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) which clearly states that NGO should be registered with them and have certain facilities of its own but all these guidelines were set aside and Roop Nagar Animal Care Centre was handed over to this NGO S.A.V.E. It is interesting to mention that during tenure of the same JMC Commissioner famous cattle pond case also happened and it is still pending in court. In approximately four months 318 sterilizations were done till one day Animal Care Centre of Roop Nagar run by S.A.V.E was raided by JMC officials and S.A.V.E was made to handover the premises back to JMC on 30th May 2016 and JMC conducted 209 more sterilizations up to 17th July 2016. After this JMC floated tenders and entered into agreement with Maharashtra based NGO ‘NSPCA’ (Nanded Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) for a period of 2 years, from March 2017 up to June 2018 more than 16000 dogs were sterilized/immunized at Municipal Animal Care Centre, Roop Nagar effectively. More than a crore of payment was done to the NGO and in the meantime some complaints were received against NGO and JMC stopped its pending payment and simultaneously an FIR was registered by Crime Branch for which enquiry is still going on but nothing has come out till date. But the result of all this has been that since June, 2018 ABC programme has been suspended as no tender can be floated pending FIR/enquiry.
Million dollar question is who has formulated this flip flop policy of JMC on serious issue of ABC programme, why no NGO from Jammu has got registered with AWBI, why no SPCA society is in place at Jammu, why there is no list of NGOs working for welfare of animals except S.A.V.E so much so that even today Directorate of Animal Husbandry issues official handouts mentioning S.A.V.E despite this NGO failing to get NOC from JMC. Why no punitive action has been taken on this NGO till date and why both JMC and Animal Husbandry officials try to accommodate this NGO? This whole ABC Programme seems to be a mystery serial with JMC itself playing the role of villain. Frequent transfers of JMC Commissioners, some within months, frequent transfers of Municipal Veterinary Officer to the extent that one was not even allowed to join, something is seriously wrong with approach towards ABC programme as there is no continuity of officials. It seems safety of public and welfare of animals is of least concern to JMC otherwise despite serious concern of even Corporators on Dog Menace no long term plan has been formulated. There is neither any policy in place for door to door garbage collection, main reason for rise in population of stray dogs, nor there is seriousness on the issue of ABC programme. If this is the status of this programme in Jammu one can very well imagine the plight of rural areas where this programme has still not been started till date. What services Animal Husbandry Department is providing in rural areas for ABC Programme in collaboration with local Municipal committees? There are no answers, no official data of stray dogs, no evening Government clinic or round the clock hospital for sick/injured animals anywhere in Jammu.
With so many veterinary doctors unemployed why government animal hospital is not running evening clinics on the basis of PPP pattern? Why no initiative to get these unemployed doctors to form NGOs headed by one retired veterinary doctor, provide them loan and get this ABC Programme started at different wards as well as rural areas to provide relief to public as well as animals and honorable self employment opportunities to unemployed Vet Doctors. Solutions are many but lack of will and vision are too obvious. With JMC again mooting to start ABC Programme themselves, it remains to be seen whether the never ending mess stops here or the agony of flip flop policies continues unabated.