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Goshalaas : When shelters turn deathtraps

Goshalaas : When shelters turn deathtraps
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TVSK Kanaka Raju Reports relating to the death of more than 100 calves, believed to be under the protection of the Simhachalam Devasthanam, due to...

TVSK Kanaka Raju

Reports relating to the death of more than 100 calves, believed to be under the protection of the Simhachalam Devasthanam, due to lack of water and the scorching heat in improper shelters, are shocking, and reflect an act of reprehensible ingratitude on the part of powers-that-be and caretakers of the animals.

Nothing concrete was done even after initial reports of the death of around 20 calves appeared last Tuesday. Following media reports, and after the death of more than 200 cows, the temple officials shifted all the remaining cattle to another premises at Krishnapuram, close to the goshalaa. The six-acre area has since been cordoned off and a special medical camp was conducted as damage control exercise.

The state government has since decided to hand over the maintenance of temple goshalaas to NGOs, for which the organizations would be given land and paid maintenance charges. A Like in the case of all goshalaas, the one at Simhachalam Devasthanam was supposed to be a shelter for the cows. Normally cows gifted by devotees are kept under the care of goshalaas. In this case, around 600 of them were supposed to be under the care of the temple goshalaa.

According to reports, the watch and ward staff at the goshalaa are inadequate. There is water scarcity, besides inadequate infrastructure. The absence of medical facilities, including veterinary doctors, at the goshalaa is disturbing. Criminal negligence towards cows is an issue which concerns every right thinking person. Till now we have heard of cow slaughter only.

In Asutosh Lahiri's case, Muslims urged the court that they had a right to insist on slaughtering of healthy cows on Bakrid day. Reviewing the case law on the subject, the Supreme Court said that there was no fundamental right to Muslims to insist on slaughtering of healthy cows on Bakrid day. The healthy cows only are lodged in a goshalaa. The people at the helm of affairs of these asylums have a fundamental duty and responsibility to have compassion for living creatures. The manner in which the cows were left to die makes it an issue of national concern. Are we to ignore this issue and pretend as if nothing serious had happened; or, do we learn lessons from this episode?

The Simhachalam Devasthanam is an agency of the State. The officers at the helm of the affairs of the devasthanam are public servants. The executive officer has a duty and responsibility to discharge the fundamental duties enshrined under Article 51 A of the Constitution. The recent episode clearly suggests official apathy, total lack of compassion, and high degree of insensitivity coupled with gross negligence.

In the Lucknow Development Authority's case, the Supreme Court reiterated that the head of the department was accountable. It is now thoroughly well-established that "no action will lie for doing that which the Legislature has authorised, if it be done without negligence, although it does occasion damage to anyone; but an action does lie for doing what the Legislature has authorised, if it be done negligently".

"Under our Constitution, sovereignty vests in the people. Every limb of the constitutional machinery is obliged to be people-oriented. No functionary in exercise of statutory power can claim immunity, except to the extent protected by the statute itself. Public authorities acting in violation of constitutional or statutory provisions oppressively are accountable for their behaviour before authorities created under the statute like the courts entrusted with responsibility of maintaining the rule of law".

Applying this principle, the executive officer of the Simhachalam Devasthanam and the head or person incharge of the goshalaa should be squarely held accountable and answerable for the unfortunate mishap. The loss occasioned, the obvious manner in which dozens of innocent calves met their end in the most gruesome manner imposes a special burden on the person incharge or whosoever it is under whose supervision the goshalaa functions to prove their innocence with clarity.

The case, going by reports, attracts Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960. Section 11 of the said Act deals with "treating animals cruelly". Section 11(1)(h) says that any person being the owner of any animal, who fails to provide such animal with sufficient food, drink or shelter shall be guilty of having treated such animal cruelly. The custodian of goshalaa falls within the ambit of the term "owner".

The cow is the most revered domestic animal to Hindus. Cow protection is a part of our Hindu culture as cow occupies a very sacred role in our scriptures. The sheer neglect and gross abandon of innocent calves in the stifling sun and heat is an extremely cruel act legally, and ethically. It is a reprehensible act of ingratitude towards the holy cow. Apart from initiating prosecution against the custodians of these innocent cows, the estimated losses arising out of this negligent act should be recovered from the salaries of the custodians of goshalaa after due enquiry.

Ours is a nation which respects cows and our culture as well as scriptures mandate cow protection. The fundamental duties enshrined in the constitution speak of compassion for animals.

A (The writer is a Senior Advocate practicing in Visakhapatnam. He can be contacted at tvsk_kanakaraju@yahoo.co.in)

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