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New Animal Welfare Bill in Parliament

The Animal Welfare Bill has, at last, been brought to Parliament, nearly three years after the Draft Bill, and was presented by the Law Commission to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The much outdated single piece of legislation that exists today for the protection and welfare of animals is the ‘Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance’ of 1907. This antiquated law has penalties and fines coming from British times, making a mockery of the law today. In this Ordinance, the fine for the worst acts of cruelty to an animal, remains at rupees two hundred and fifty!

If the Animal Welfare Bill is passed in Parliament, it will not only draw from our past traditions, but will place us among modern progressive societies, which, while upholding human rights, also have effective laws to protect animals, bringing the treatment of animals within the Rule of Law. 

The failure of successive governments since independence to introduce effective animal protection laws, has led to the ruthless, unlawful exploitation of animals, as in the case of wild fauna and our indigenous cattle and buffalo resources. The inadequacies of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals law, and the other laws for the control of animals, has led to the emergence of a large-scale illicit cattle trade. This is operated by a formidable mafia of traders, and wrought with cruelty both in transportation and slaughter of cattle. This mafia has corrupted our society by bribing the Police, administrative authorities and veterinary personnel in every part of the country.
As much as the cattle for the meat trade are largely illicitly obtained, veterinary officers are known to issue permits without proper inspection of the animals as the law requires, making hygienic standards of the meat trade largely questionable. Rather than allowing an illicit, unhygienic and cruel meat trade that is unmanageable to continue, it would serve the country better to stop cattle slaughter and import the peoples’ requirements in meat consumption.

Under the new Bill, persons breeding or trading in animals without obtaining a license, or keeping any animal for sale or display for sale in a cruel manner, if convicted will be liable to a heavy fine or imprisonment or both.

Another new area of animal abuse is the use of live animals for scientific research. It is indeed heartening that professors and senior lecturers of the Department of Human Genetics, Colombo Medical Faculty, have taken the humanitarian movement in our country several steps forward by  forming an Ethical Committee for the use of live animals in scientific research .This committee has already prepared a strict code of guidelines for any persons doing research using animals.  Authorities must hasten to give legality to these guidelines. The new Bill has heavy penalties and sentences for the illegal use of animals in scientific research.

The old Ordinance does not embrace wild fauna of this country and exotic captive animals, such as the animals of the National Zoological Gardens. However, they are both included in the new Animal Welfare Bill which in fact spreads its protective wings over all living beings other than humans. 

The revolutionary aspect of the Bill is the setting up of a National Animal Welfare Authority. This body will comprise members with wide experience in animal welfare issues and ex-officio officers, equipped and empowered to deal with all issues concerning the protection and welfare of animals. This Authority will appoint officials and animal welfare inspectors for the efficient discharge of its functions. At present the Police are the implementers of the existing animal protection law. The new Authority will have powers to monitor the progress of investigations and criminal proceedings relating to offences against animals.