Now, Supreme Court to decide whether birds have the right to fly

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The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide an issue that evokes the theme of author Richard Bach’s top selling fable about Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the young gull who broke from the humdrum of feeding and nesting to fully explore his love of flight.

A bench of Chief Justice H L Dattu and Justices Shiva Kirti Singh and Amitava Roy agreed to examine the validity of a Gujarat High Court order holding that birds have a fundamental right to move freely in the sky and this must be respected by not caging them.

The Gujarat HC’s order came in the case in which 494 birds were seized from hawkers. In most cases, their wings and tails were cut, cellotape was put on wings and there were rings on their legs so that they could not fly, according to a report. This is a common sight in most so-called bird bazaars.

In Bach’s classic, Jonathan Livingston pushes himself to another plane of existence as he discovers a calling higher than mere survival. The sight of a bird in soaring flight does not seem easy to reconcile with a cage.

The HC had said keeping birds in cages would be tantamount to illegal confinement that violates the rights of birds to live in their natural environment, that is the free sky and that it is the duty of every citizen to see that no unnecessary pain on suffering is caused to them.

Challenging the HC order, Pet Lovers’ Association, an NGO, told the bench that the order is illegal as it is contrary to the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and Wild Life Protection Act. It said keeping birds in house and trading them is not prohibited.

While the letter and spirit of the law will be argued before the SC, the confinement of birds does not seem at par with common household pets like dogs and cats. A cage, even a sizable one, is no substitute for what birds are used to and even avians bred in captivity do not attempt to return once they escape from a cage unlike a dog or a cat.

Senior advocate Salman Khurshid, appearing for the NGO, told the bench that the HC order is being misused by government authorities and NGOs in various states where pet traders were being targeted and restrained from carrying out their business. He said there are sufficient safeguards under Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and Wild life Protection Act to protect the right of animals and birds and to prevent any cruelty against them.

“Several studies and research has demonstrated that birds and animals can play a positive role in the improvement of health problems and can be psychologically comforting to human beings. Therefore it becomes imperative to have a mechanism in place for their proper treatment and custody,” the petition, filed through advocate Imtiaz Ahmed, said.

“The order passed by HC is liable to be set aside by this Court for the same being contrary to the safeguards as have been provided under the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and Wild Life Protection Act and there are no requirements for any kind of license or permission for the purposes of dealing or keeping of exotic birds,” it said.

The petitioner claimed that it had made representation to state governments and even to the Prime Minister for taking steps to protect the interest to pet traders as animal rights NGOs in connivance with the Police officials have seized the birds and animals belonging to the traders and false cases are being filed against them.

The court, after a brief hearing, issued notice to Centre, state governments, Animal Welfare Board and animal rights NGO– People for Animals and Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre.

The petitioner also pleaded the court to frame guidelines to be followed by the Police for the seizure of birds and animals.

Delhi High Court also in its May 17 order held that birds have fundamental rights, including the right to live with dignity, and they cannot be subjected to cruelty by anyone. “I am clear in mind that all the birds have fundamental rights to fly in the sky and no one has no right to keep them in small cages for the purposes of their business or otherwise,” Justice Manmohan Singh had said in its order.

SOURCE: TIMES OF INDIA

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