Read Order: Abhishek Bhateja v. Union of India and Others

Monika Rahar 

Chandigarh, April 27, 2022: While dealing with a writ petition filed by an animal lover assailing the order of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), Chandigarh, rescheduling the visiting time for such animal lovers, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that the timing schedule provided in the impugned orders needs to the revisited as per the time schedule prevailing before passing the impugned orders. 

The Bench of Justice Raj Mohan Singh held, “I deem it appropriate to dispose of this writ petition at this stage with a request to the addressee of the representations… to pass appropriate orders in accordance with law and till then allow the animal lovers and social organizations to feed the animals and to take care of them as per the norms and prevailing situation prior to passing the impugned orders.”

The petitioner was aggrieved by the re-scheduling of visiting time for the animal lovers thereby allowing the animal lovers/volunteers to visit the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), Chandigarh for two hours in the summers in the morning and for two hours in the evening. During winter, visiting time from 10.00 A.M. to 12.00 P.M. in the morning and from 5.00 P.M. to 7.00 P.M. in the evening for volunteers was scheduled. 

According to the petitioner, re-scheduling of time was less public-friendly and it deprived animals in need of urgent treatment and thus hampered the welfare of animals further leading to the failure of the main objective of setting up the Animal Welfare Board. 

The petitioner claimed himself to be a volunteer and a regular donator at SPCA, Chandigarh. He also claimed to participate in various animal welfare and awareness activities coordinated by the Field Inspector, SPCA Chandigarh and to promote the adoption of street animals. It was further his claim that he was involved in encouraging other people to promote and support the Government shelters SPCA, Chandigarh.

The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) was set up in accordance with Section 4 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA Act) and the said Board is an advisory body to the Government of India and makes various recommendations and gives valuable advice to the Government on the matters pertaining to cruelty to the animals. It issues advisories and circulars whenever necessary to various government authorities, local authorities and other organizations for proper implementation of the PCA Act and rules framed thereunder. 

In the present case, the AWBI received various complaints regarding the conditions of animals, who were being kept in the SPCA, Chandigarh. According to the inspection conducted by a team comprising of members, AWBI and veterinary surgeon in October 2020 and November 2020, some glaring irregularities were noticed and a detailed report was prepared wherein various recommendations were made. 

In view of the above, the Court issued a notice of motion. The Petitioner and the second and fourth respondents were at variance in respect of the inspection conducted by the Inspecting Team by associating the authorities of SPCA, Chandigarh. 

The counsel for the second and fourth respondents contended that the inspection was conducted only in the presence of Dr Kanwarjit Bhangu, Joint Director and the said report was never communicated to them, while according to learned counsel for the petitioner, the inspection was conducted after associating the authorities of SPCA, Chandigarh. 

The counsel for the first and the third respondents took a stand that reports prepared after inspection by Ms Anjali Gopalan, Managing Trustee was duly communicated to the Administrator and even a reminder was also sent thereafter. 

The second and fourth respondents, in their written statement, attempted to challenge the locus of the petitioner by contending that Society is claimed to be well managed by expert staff including veterinary doctors and that the volunteers only give calls to the staff regarding the injured animals or the animals suffering from the diseases and it is the staff of the Society that brings such animals to the Society. 

Also, while contending that the volunteers come for the purpose of feeding the animals and at times, they feed the animals against the norms and the instructions of the veterinary doctors of the Society, the above-said respondents added that the impugned orders were passed only after the decision in the meeting of the members of the AWBI and SPCA. 

“The orders were passed taking into account the totality of facts and circumstances and overall welfare of the animals”, added the above-said respondents. 

The counsel for the petitioner referred to the photographs of ailing animals and the conditions in which animals were lodged in different cages. The counsel also relied upon a number of news items appearing in leading newspapers to show that there was an acute shortage of veterinary doctors for which a stop-gap arrangement was being done to tackle the absence of veterinary officers at the government-run animal shelter SPCA in Sector 38, Chandigarh. 

47% of the animals brought to the shelter home died during treatment according to one RTI information, highlighted the Counsel while stating that animal rights activists have raised their concern over the absence of veterinary doctors at the government-run animal shelter. 

Dr. Kanwarjit Singh, Joint Director-cum-Honorary General Secretary, SPCA, Sector 38, Chandigarh, stated in his reply, filed on behalf of the second and fourth respondents that there were two Resident Doctors, who reside on the second floor of the building of SPCA to provide 24 x 7 services. It was also stated that after one of the doctors resigned recently, the SPCA sent the requirement as regards the second doctor to the Contractor. 

From the reply of the second and fourth respondents, it came to the Court’s notice that in response to the recommendation contained in the inspection report, a letter of Intent for the award of tender for providing human resource manpower services to SPCA, Sector 38, Chandigarh was floated by the second and fourth respondents, however, no action was taken.

The Court also observed a letter of Intent for the award of manpower contract of 23 nos. outsourcing services for SPCA, Sector 38 Chandigarh was issued. A letter was issued to one of the service agencies informing that its agency was selected as the successful bidder for providing 23 persons as per detail in the tender at the rate quoted by it. Item No.1 was in respect of two veterinary doctors to be taken through an outsourcing agency, but no such doctor was provided by the outsourcing agency.

The Court opined that the rival stand taken by the parties can only be addressed and answered if the representations filed by the petitioner and other animal lovers are effectively adjudicated by the addressee.

It came to Court’s notice that the petitioner made representations and an email was also sent to the Deputy Commissioner-cum- President SPCA, Sector 38 West Chandigarh highlighting the present state of health of SPCA Chandigarh. Thus, the Court felt it to be just and appropriate to request the addressee of these representations to take all corrective steps for the welfare of the animals lodged in SPCA, Sector 38, Chandigarh. 

Thus, in this light, the Court directed that the timing schedule as per the impugned orders needs to be revisited as per the time schedule prevailing before passing the impugned orders. 

“This is so, particularly in view of the state of affairs prevailing in the SPCA Chandigarh as per inspection report and the facts which have been brought on record of the present case”, asserted Justice Singh. 

Also, the Court added that if the competent authority comes to the conclusion that fixing of new time schedule for visits of animals lovers/volunteers needs to be re-fixed, then the new schedule is to be fixed after providing a reasonable opportunity to all the stakeholders including the animal lovers and volunteers in accordance with the law. 

Until then, the operation of the impugned orders was directed to be kept at abeyance so as to allow the animal lovers/volunteers and other organizations to have recourse to the time schedule as was prevalent prior to the passing of the impugned orders.

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