The bone of contention
There has been a whole lot of snapping and snarling going on between animal rights activists and the rest of the City's denizens on the question of stray dogs. ANAND BALAJI lends both groups a patient ear.
A case of giving a dog a bad name and hanging him? Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash
HOWLS OF protests from animal rights activists and the rest of the populace have been reverberating in the City these past few years. The bone of contention, of course, is stray dogs.
And the past few weeks have been abuzz with activity to decide the fate of the canines that roam the streets. Two major players - the animal welfare organisations (AWOs) and Stray Dog-Free Bangalore (SDFB) - have locked horns over an issue that has now turned into a do-or-die battle.
The proposal to rid the city of stray dogs had its genesis in February 2001with the setting up of the SDFB, which has vowed not to rest "until every stray dog is put down". To achieve this objective, SDFB, which has also filed a writ petition in the Karnataka High court along with 27 other petitioners, knocked on the doors of the Karnataka Lokayukta, Mr. Justice N. Venkatachala and sought his intervention.
Their complaint stated that the Animal Birth Control - Anti-Rabies Vaccine (ABC-ARV) programme implemented by the AWOs did not yield the desired results in controlling the growing number of dogs.
Says Ms. Diana Barucha, SDFB: "The plan of the AWOs is aimed at zero growth and not the complete elimination of stray dogs. Statistics exist to prove that the cases relating to rabies are on the rise in Bangalore."
This claim is debunked by animal rights groups who say that the figures are exaggerated. "Let us remember that the method of sterilisation and vaccination to reduce the number of dogs has been certified by the World Health Organisation (WHO). So no one can fault us for doing things by the book," argues Mr. S. Chinny Krishna, Vice-Chairman, Animal Welfare Board of India.
Mr. Dilip Bafna of Animal Rights Fund (ARF) says: "Almost all of the cases cited are from out of Bangalore or of people bitten by rabid dogs in other cities who come here for treatment. A visit to the Isolation Hospital will reveal this."
In turn, SDFB members contend that sterilisation increases the chances of dogs turning aggressive. "Once the dog is robbed of its biological and physiological needs, it will definitely turn violent and frustrated," observes Dr. B. J. Mahendra, Assistant Professor, Kempegowda Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS).
But there are those like Ms. Aruna, an animal activist and resident of Banaswadi, who scoff at such claims: "I have four strays at home and they are by no means ferocious. On the contrary, they have become more docile after being operated upon."
Amidst all this wrangling, the tussle to eliminate stray dogs has assumed legal overtones with SDFB pointing to existing laws. Section 58 of the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act 1976 expressly states that "it shall be incumbent on the Corporation to make reasonable and adequate provision for the destruction of animals causing nuisance, and confinement or destruction of stray dogs or ownerless dogs."
This, in effect, speaks of putting down stray dogs. Furthermore, such action, says Section 11 (3) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA), "will not constitute cruelty to animals".
But then, the laws clearly state that the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP) has a choice: It can destroy the strays through lethal gas chambers or "any other means".
In this case, the BMP has clearly opted for the ABC method in the City.
The Karnataka Police Act is subservient to the Central PCA Act, which clearly gives a choice to the BMP. Justice N. Venkatachala summoned a hearing of the parties involved and stressed that, "existing Central and State laws must be implemented to control the stray dog menace". Both sides produced figures, which range anywhere from 80,000 to two lakh. Similarly, there is no consensus on the exact figure of rabies deaths in the City. AWOs' sources say that ever since they took over the sterilisation programme from the BMP 21 months ago there have been, "no deaths resulting from rabies in Bangalore".
Mr. S. Chinny Krishna who agrees, wonders: "Why the hue and cry suddenly when rabies is not on the list of notifiable diseases in India? Anyone is welcome to acquaint themselves with the ABC (Dog) Rules 2001."
Compare this with a report brought out by KIMS which states that, "Bangalore records 6,000 animal bite cases per month and 50 to 70 hydrophobia deaths per year.
Ms. Suparna Baksi Ganguly, Secretary of Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA) says: "On any given month, we conduct over 500 sterilisations and release the animals after they are notched at our shelter. Moreover, the problem of growing number of dogs will not be solved by merely killing them, as dogs from adjoining areas move in to take their place."
According to statistics available, the ABC-ARV programme has been largely successful in Jaipur, Mumbai, Delhi, and Chennai. It is being carried out on a war footing in several cities which include inter alia Pune, Mysore, Mangalore, Hubli, Jodhpur, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, and Jamshedpur.
"In fact, the Jaipur project is known worldwide as a successful pioneering project as there have been no cases of rabies deaths there for the past four years," claims Mr. Bafna.
Neutering has been successfully adopted by several countries the world over; Bangkok and Turkey are prime examples where this method has worked.
For the purpose of streamlining the ABC-ARV programme in the City, AWOs have divided Bangalore into three zones with ARF, CUPA, and the Bangalore Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals taking charge of these divisions. Each of these organisations has a van to capture and sterilise dogs in their zones.
Though, as of now, over a thousand dogs are sterilised every month, the major threat, according to the president of SDFB, S. Krishnaswamy, comes from, "feral or non-domesticated dogs which forage on human waste and garbage alone, and whose movements are totally unrestricted. There are no two ways about this; the dogs have to go."
The BMP has turned a blind eye to the co-relation that exists between the accumulation of garbage and the growing number of stray dogs.
"SDFB has exhorted the authorities concerned to act fast and eliminate the vector of rabies, which is the dog. Don't we kill mosquitoes to curb malaria?" demands Ms. Barucha.
However, the AWOs point out that though the BMP has destroyed some 25 lakh dogs by employing the most cruel methods possible, like electrocution, it has made no difference to the number of stray dogs.
They also add that the BMC follows a dog-eared policy formulated nearly 60 years ago. ABC (animal birth control) is a permanent one-time solution, they claim.
Ms. Ganguly of CUPA sees a hidden agenda in the controversy. "It is a matter of shame for the medical community to use the forum of the ABC programme to fight for the tissue culture vaccines in government hospitals.
They should not have waited for October 2000 to do so, but should have fought with the Government 10 years ago to introduce safe and cheap vaccines for humans." Incidentally, the tissue culture vaccines are expensive, at Rs. 300 per shot. A dog bite entails five shots. Government hospitals use cheaper animal vaccines that entail 14 painful injections.
Animal rights activists, who have taken up the sterilisation programme, have run into financial problems. "We are strapped for funds as the BMP has not paid us the amount which we are entitled to, since November 2001," laments Mr. Bafna.
Ms. Prema Cariappa, former mayor and Member of Parliament, who is Patron of SDFB, has jumped into the fray by promising to raise the issue of stray dog menace in the Rajya Sabha.
So what next?
"The need of the hour is responsible ownership," emphasises Bangalore City Police Commissioner H. T. Sangliana, who has issued an ultimatum to the AWOs saying that it is imperative that they set up stray dog homes.
He has also called upon the BMP to create, "zonal dog refuge areas" whereby the stray dogs displaying "overt aggression" can be closely monitored.
The BMP Commissioner, M.R. Sreenivasamurthy, has assured the Lokayukta that plans are afoot to work in tandem with the City police to capture stray dogs and hand them over to the AWOs.
Meanwhile, until the City is finally rid of stray dogs, Bangaloreans had better watch their ankles!
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