It has taken exactly 99 years to place a bill in parliament aimed at replacing the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1920. Titled Animal Welfare Bill 2019, the proposed law not only sounds compassionate enough but also shows through its wording a mental leap forward for at least a large part of society here. The 1920 act was not only inadequate for dealing with perpetrators of various forms of cruelty meted out to animals -pet or captured or otherwise but also hardly sensitive to their afflictions. One example is the stipulation of the prohibition of 24-hour captivity of an animal at a stretch without allowing any movement in the newly formulated act. Dogs and cows are not only kept confined for 24 hours but for even weeks or months in this country. Many keepers do not feel that their pets also love to run and play in the open. So far as the caged birds are concerned, if the provision has to be applied, will any such bird volunteer to come back to be imprisoned again?
Animal lovers have of late organised societies in different parts of Bangladesh and they are accomplishing commendable jobs. Not only do members of those animal and avian societies rescue birds and animals captured and maltreated by callous or uncaring people but they also make arrangement for nesting on trees for resident and even migratory birds. Vultures, eagles, egrets, cormorants and migratory ducks are at times rescued from poachers and released in the open after treatment but the latest such noble mission surpassed them all when a nilgai, Asia's largest antelope and on the verge of extinction, was captured and before its probable slaughter could be rescued. Sure enough, a section of society considers almost every animal or bird a dish on the menu.
Fortunately, a new generation is coming up with a fair idea of Nature's diversity and the mutual adaptation for survival of the living world. In the new law the provisions for punishment have been made stricter and many of the traditional concepts challenged by bringing those under the purview of the proposed law. Under the law, training of animals for sports or entertainment cannot be imparted without approval from the authorities concerned. Similarly, commercial breeding of pets and setting up of farms for the purpose without registration have been made illegal.
Clearly the laws have been mindful enough to bring the trade in pets into order. If the laws are applied judiciously, many animals can be spared the needless sufferings they are subjected to randomly. When puppies and kittens are caged for weeks or months in an outlet at Katabon in the capital before they find customers, they wail with no mercy shown to them. But there is no guarantee all such abuses of and cruelties to animal will come to an end with the passage of the law. There are nice laws in many areas but hardly are they enforced to redress wrongs. Is there enough manpower in the department concerned to apply the legal provision at the field level? There is, moreover, every possibility that some uncaring enforcers will abuse the law for lining their pockets unless their accountability is ensured.
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