New offences and higher fines to be included in Animal Welfare BillView(s):
- Abandoning animals and willfully depriving them of food and water are some of the proposed new offences
By Nathara Abeywickrema
New offences and enhanced fines are to be included in the Animal Welfare Bill, which is yet to be introduced replacing a century-old law.
The draft bill has been delayed for a number of reasons even though the initial one was created 15 years ago.
But the new draft has widened the scope to mean any living being other than a human. The punishment for cruelty will also change if the bill goes through Parliament.
The existing punishment is a fine not less than Rs. 100 or jail term that cannot exceed three months. The new law provides fines up to Rs. 150,000 and longer jail terms.
Some of the proposed new offences include abandonment of animals, willful deprivation of food and water, and castration or sterilisation unless completed by a veterinary surgeon.
“On March 7, on invitation, four petitioners in the Animal Welfare court case, and the legal counsel, attended the meeting of the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Agriculture. The Bill, which was recommended by Sri Lanka’s Law Commission, received Cabinet approval after a lengthy discussion, which lasted over a decade, and was assigned to the Agriculture Ministry,” said Animal Welfare Advocate Lalani Perera, who is also a lawyer.
“We went for a professional discussion, but at the meeting one member of the consultative committee, vociferously insulted us for lobbying the bill. Although Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, who is the Chairman of the committee, and many other members were supportive of the Bill, one committee member was not. He said dogs were a nuisance, who should not be protected, but killed,” Ms. Perera added.
In 2006, then President Mahinda Rajapaksa directed a “No Kill Policy” for dogs–and advocated for CNVR (Catch-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release), a humane and sustainable method recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
“The Animal Welfare Bill has been on the Order Paper of Parliament since March 24, last year. It was a massive struggle of nearly 15 years to get it to that stage. The Bill was drafted by Sri Lanka’s Law Commission after intensive deliberations and public consultations for nearly four years and presented to the then government in 2006. Since there was absolutely no progress, a group of activists decided to go to the Court of Appeal to get government attention for the Bill. That was the turning point. But getting the Bill to Parliament was a challenge. We met President Mahinda Rajapaksa, President Maithripala Sirisena and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who were all supportive,” said Ms. Perera.
Mrs. Perera also mentioned that in 2021, the activists met then Agricultural Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage who was responsible for the Bill and who obtained Cabinet approval to present it in Parliament with some changes. Thereafter the Bill got into the Order Paper of Parliament dated February 3, 2022, and is still awaiting debate, since some members of the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Agriculture have raised some questions.
“It is extremely disheartening that the Bill is still languishing in the Order Paper. We have requested to meet that committee and allay their fears,” said Ms. Perera.
Despite the shortcomings, the Bill still had to go through a number of stages before being passed into law, she added.
“Today, there are international standards for the welfare and protection of animals, including dogs. These standards include a right to life, just like humans. In some jurisdictions animals are called “Non-Human Persons,” Ms. Perera revealed.
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