An Indian court has ruled that all animals should enjoy the same rights as human beings, saying “they have distinct personas with corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person”.
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In a landmark ruling, the Uttarakhand High Court on Wednesday accorded the status of “legal person or entity” to animals in the northern state.
Justices Rajiv Sharma and Lokpal Singh bestowed the status on “the entire animal kingdom” while ruling on a set of guidelines to prevent cruelty against animals.
The judgment, which would need to be ratified by the national Supreme Court, is meant to act as a deterrent to poachers, companies that pollute the natural environment and those who abuse pets or wildlife.
The state made a similar environmental ruling about the sacred Ganges and Yamuna rivers last year to fight toxic waste being dumped into them, which was later stayed by the Supreme Court.
“The entire animal kingdom, including avian and aquatic ones, are declared as legal entities”, said the Uttarakhand court.
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The court also declared all Uttarakhand residents the guardians of animals, and held them responsible to ensure their welfare and protection.
“All the citizens throughout the state are hereby declared persons in loco parentis as the human face for the welfare/protection of animals”, it added.
Under Indian law there are two types of legal “persons” — sentient human beings and “juristic persons” — such as minors, companies, trusts, wards of court, or people with mental incapacities. The ruling would put animals with the latter category.
While the ruling is aimed at protecting wildlife, especially endangered species in Uttarakhand’s several national parks, the court also addressed the use of animals in agriculture.
It banned the use of spikes or other sharp implements on farm animals, and also said that if the temperature exceeds 37°C or drops below 5°C, that nobody is “permitted to keep in harness any animal used for the purpose of drawing vehicles”.
It also called for high-visibility markings on animal-drawn vehicles on public roads.
The order came after a public interest lawsuit seeking restrictions on the movement of horse-drawn carts between India and Nepal, which shares a mountainous border with the state.