Today’s Mumbai Mirror reports this heartening news, as reported by their correspondent Yogesh Sadhwani:
Two animal lovers from Thane, who were arrested and humiliated two years ago after a stray dog they used to feed allegedly bit a resident, have finally been acquitted, with a magistrate court ruling that feeding strays was not a crime.
The order provides welcome relief for animal lovers in the city, many of whom are pulled up by their housing societies for taking care of strays. Only recently, well-known director Partho Ghosh had a quarrel with his society management when he was fined Rs 1000 in his maintenance bill for feeding two stray dogs. His family, incidentally, had been taking care of them since they were pups.
This order is only the first victory for Sanjeev Dighe and Yatin Mhatre, who are fighting a separate case in High Court against the State and the police for handcuffing them and parading them around their society. In this, they are being represented by Mahesh Jethmalani and have the backing of, among others, Maneka Gandhi.
For Dighe, a commercial artist, and Mhatre - both residents of Lok Puram complex in Thane - the nightmare started on September 20, 2009. The duo had been feeding strays in their locality for several years, something that had led to many altercations with society members. Dighe says the residents believed this would lead to an increase in the stray dog population in the area.
That night, Dighe was getting ready to go out and feed the strays around 10.45 pm when a posse of cops arrived in a private vehicle and asked him to accompany them to Vartak Nagar Police Station. Mhatre accompanied him there, and a few hours later, the duo were booked under Section 289 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with animals in a particular person’s care attacking someone.
The next morning, both were handcuffed and taken to their society, where they were paraded around, ostensibly to show other residents what happened to people who fed strays. They were then taken to a holiday court, which released them on bail.
In a recent order, Jaishree Poonawala, judicial magistrate first class, remarked that “feeding stray dogs is not a crime”, adding that strays were not the same as pets and certainly not the sole responsibility of those who feed them.
“After our arrest, Maneka Gandhi personally got involved and helped us file the petition in HC through Mahesh Jethmalani,” said Dighe.
This order itself has come as a huge relief to Mhatre and Dighe. “Finally justice has prevailed. Several people like me are often victimised by residents who do not like others feeding strays. We hope this order will help others like us,” said Dighe.
Ajay Marathe, a noted animal rights activist, pointed out that incidents of animal lovers being victimised were common in Mumbai. “Those who feed dogs in their area are treated badly. Most residents are against such feeding and come up with random rules to stop them,” said Marathe.
RK Joshi, convener of Committee to Monitor Animal Welfare Laws in Maharashtra, has recently written to the BMC commissioner highlighting the issue of societies trying to get rid of stray dogs.
He has pointed out that years after Bombay High Court laid down the guidelines for dealing with stray dogs - the HC has put an emphasis on animal birth control and sterilisation - people continued to harass dogs and animal lovers.
“There is growing tendency in housing societies not to permit stray dogs on the society premises or even in the vicinity. There have been instances when dogs are brutally assaulted by the society members or the watchmen,” the letter states, adding that instances of animal lovers being assaulted were common.
The letter urges the commissioner, who is also the chairman of the Monitoring Committee, to urgently look at these issues and ensure that animal lovers and dogs were not harassed.
Ms. Anjali Sharma, Advocate and Legal Advisor to the Animal Welfare Board of India, says that what is extremely significant is this part: “In a recent order, Jaishree Poonawala, judicial magistrate first class, remarked that “feeding stray dogs is not a crime”, adding that strays were not the same as pets and certainly not the sole responsibility of those who feed them.”
This is, as Ms. Sharma explains, because these men had been arrested under Section 289 of the Indian Penal Code – ‘negligent conduct with respect to an animal’, after a stray they were feeding bit a resident of the locality. Section 289 applies to pet dogs, but there has been an increasing attempt on the part of many, including police, R.W.A.s, etc. to bring feeding of strays, and any aggression the strays may show if provoked, within the ambit of this Section.