EDITORIAL-Enact the Animal Welfare Bill of the Law Commission

Today is World Animal Day.  It commenced on October 4, 1931 in Florence, Italy at a convention of ecologists.  World Animal Day has since expanded its focus from its original intent, which was to bring attention to endangered or threatened species, to a stage where there is a resounding call on humankind worldwide to reflect on all of the animals we share this world with, their continuing plight mostly due to man’s inhumanity, and to spur action to commemorate our concern for them and their welfare. Half the world’s mammals have declined in numbers and more than a third are now threatened with extinction.

The situation in Sri Lanka in so far as legislative protection of both captive and stray animals is concerned is pathetic to say the least.  A country that by royal invitation selected Buddhism as its state religion, followed by nearly 180 Buddhist kings that issued decrees banning killing of animals and prohibited animal sacrifice following the Buddha’s injunctions and society was brought to treat all sentient beings with compassion must feel ashamed that the maximum punishment today for a heinous crime against an animal is less than one US dollar i.e. Rs.100. A country where no animal was slain, where animals lived freely with man in peaceful co-existence in the past, today imports meat, slaughters animals in the most brutal manner, exports fish and meat with hardly any concern for the country’s Buddhist image and religious traditions, and even allows animal with hardly any moral consideration being given to the inequity of such conduct resulting in the infliction of pain and suffering and deprivation of life of another sentient being.

Our ancestors would be deeply saddened at the manner that we as a nation have declined in both moral and ethical terms. With 70% of the population following the Buddha’s teachings, with Article 9 of the Sri Lankan Constitution clearly giving foremost place to Buddhism, it is a shame that Sri Lanka’s politicians simply for the vote have unequivocally compromised on deep seated values and animal friendly Buddhist heritage that cherished life of all sentient beings and held a nation together with compassion.

Nonetheless, the worthiness of man as a human comes in behaving above animal instincts. What differentiates a man from animal necessitates that we behave as such but by also understanding that an animal shares the same emotions as man. No animal would want to face death or give up life.The fight for modern animal welfare legislation in Sri Lanka has been a long one.

While the rest of the world has moved on Sri Lanka still lags behind with archaic and obsolete legislation as the primary statute governing animal welfare. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, No. 13 of 1907 enacted during the period of the British Raj imposed a Rs. 100 fine as the maximum penalty for cruelty to animals. It was a deterrent in 1907. It looks ridiculous in the statute book in 2014.   

The Law Commission prepared an Animal Welfare Bill repealing the aforesaid Cruelty to Animals Ordinance and substituting heavy punishments for abuse of animals. It was finalized in 2006. Eight years have elapsed since then but there is no sign of this Bill being enacted in Parliament. The lack of political will to extend effective legislative protection to innocent defenseless animals is a national shame.

If Sri Lanka is taken to task internationally on lack of statutory recognition of animal rights than on human rights we will have nowhere to look.

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