Only the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) even mentioned this in its 10-point poll promise list. The menace posed by stray animals — cattle, dogs and monkeys — in Delhi. None of the other contestants to the Delhi Municipal polls had thought this was a serious enough problem to make it a campaign point.
While Congress ignored the issue, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had a single line in its 12-point manifesto: “We are committed to provide better parking facilities and solving the problem of stray animals”.
While other issues such as clearing of landfills, sanitation, street vendors etc. were stressed more, this promise of AAP — that “several areas in the city have reported stray dogs and monkeys attacking citizens and cattle roaming on the road, AAP promises to fix this issue” — went largely unnoticed.
But that it has become a serious problem has been highlighted by several citizens.
AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj, an MLA from south Delhi, claimed that the party has prepared a detailed blueprint to resolve the issue of the increase in the stray animal population in the capital. “The AAP will make arrangements for shelter and provide stray animals with healthy food,” Bharadwaj announced at a press conference, which he addressed holding two stray puppies.
“Monkeys entering residential areas is a major issue in Delhi,” admits Bharadwaj. “It may sound like a small problem but you can visit any society in Delhi, particularly in south Delhi, and you will find that the maximum number of complaints councillors receive is regarding the number of monkeys in their societies.”
“Once the AAP wins the MCD election, we will ensure that these monkeys are released in their natural habitat, such as Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary. We will also ensure that the monkeys are provided with adequate food options within their habitat and that they do not have to venture into colonies in Delhi,” he added.
Now that AAP has won and controls the municipal council, the party has followed up with assurances that it will also solve the issue of stray cattle wandering on roads by housing them in gaushalas.
On the problem of stray dogs, and there have been occasional reports of stray dogs attacking children, “the Delhi government has tried to discuss the issue of stray dogs several times with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled MCD, but the latter was never interested in a serious conversation,” said Bharadwaj.
Delhi BJP spokesperson Praveen Shankar Kapoor hit back at the AAP saying, “None of the Delhi government’s veterinary hospitals are in working condition, and as for cattle, the Delhi government has done nothing to construct any new cow shelter nor is it providing existing private cow shelters in outer Delhi areas with proper funds. Bharadwaj issued the statement to satisfy RWAs which have been demanding policy on stray animals like dogs and cows left on streets.”
An analysis of Delhi’s party-wise manifesto (2017-22) and targets set for 2022-2027 released by Praja Foundation, an NGO working towards enabling accountable governance, said more than 70,000 complaints related to stray dog and monkey menace were received by the civic authorities in four years.
Court orders remain on paper
Even the Delhi High Court has issued directions regarding feeding and managing stray dogs. “Stray or street dogs have the right to food and citizens have the right to feed them, but in exercising this right, care and caution should be taken,” one of the Court’s directives said.
The Court had directed that every Resident Welfare Association (RWA) should form “Guard and Dog partnerships” in consultation with the Delhi Police Dog Squad, so that strays can be trained as guard dogs and yet be friendly to residents of a colony. The High Court also ruled that it should be “the duty and obligation of every RWA or Municipal Corporation (in case RWA is not available) to ensure that every community dog in every area has access to food and water in the absence of caregivers or community dog feeders in the said area”.
It said feeding of community dogs has to be done at areas designated by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) in consultation with an RWA or Municipal Corporation.
The High Court further noted that despite the clear position of law in prohibiting cruelty to animals, including stray dogs, there is an increasing tendency among citizens and even the authorities to defy it.
The Court noted that it is the duty of the AWBI and the RWAs to keep in mind that community dogs live in “packs” and care should be taken by them to see that each “pack” ideally had different designated areas for feeding, even if that meant designating multiple areas in a locality.
Redressal of residents’ grievances should first be attempted through a process of dialogue with the Animal Welfare Committee, the court said. If a resolution cannot be achieved, the issue is to be brought to the notice of the AWBI through the RWA for expeditious resolution, the court added.
A committee headed by the Director of the Animal Husbandry Department will implement these guidelines, according to the Court’s orders.
But all the directives remain on paper only. According to World Animal Protection Foundation, humane alternatives to dog culling do exist and are a more effective way to manage dog populations.
“We’ve been advising governments on humane dog population management for 30 years,” the Foundation said. “And while we know there are risks from stray dog populations – diseases, aggressive behaviour, damage to livestock – we also know that culling is never an answer”.
The Foundation said that it followed the International Companion Animal Management (ICAM) for dog population management methodology. “It’s a full cycle of action, which we use to help governments control dog populations humanely. The solutions we reach together can involve educating owners, legislation, dog registration, vaccination, sterilisation, rehoming – or a combination of some or all of these. We help governments to monitor and evaluate progress too, ensuring we create humane change that lasts”.
Meanwhile, on the ground, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has asked residents to get their pets registered in view of “rising incidents of dog-bite” in the national capital region, and warned that action can be taken for non-compliance.
Senior officials of MCD’s veterinary department said the MCD Act mandates registration of pet dogs with the civic body, but “residents have remained reluctant to come forward to get their pets registered”. There is also a provision for fining pet-owners and even carrying out prosecution.
Study on man-animal issues
Dr Nishant Kumar, a visiting fellow at the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford and a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) said in cities like Delhi, waste and ritually offered food act as subsidies for domestic and free-ranging animals.
“Co-existence with animals has become impossible,” said Dr Nishant, adding that there is need for a scientific study to be done regarding man-animal relations. Dr Kumar is launching a study in January 2023 on human-animal interfaces carved by local cultures, built environments, and socio-economic pressure.
Writing on the social media site Local Circles, Delhi resident Bhushan Mohan says monkeys, dogs and cattle seems to be having more rights than human beings. “I blame humans who have created this situation,” Bhushan wrote. “Time and again I find so-called activists only trying to save stray animals and many of them go out to feed them in public places although it is an offence. No authority is ready to take any action”.
According to Subramanian V (Konark Apartments RWA President): “I feel all RWAs should jointly appeal to SC to help us find a solution”.