Blackbuck Protection and Animal Rights
The Lahore High Court recently announced a verdict directing the Punjab government to take precautionary safety measures in order to protect a vulnerable species known as the blackbuck. It is a protected species under the Punjab Wildlife (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Act and has been included in the Third Schedule which lists animals and birds declared vulnerable by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species.
Representing the petitioner before the honourable Lahore High Court, I argued that the blackbuck population had been deteriorating due to illegal hunting permits being granted and the lack of safety measures taken by the Punjab government. I also argued that after the Eighteenth Amendment, the responsibility to protect biological diversity and ecosystem had been devolved to provincial governments. As a result, the Punjab government had been negligent in performing its statutory obligations. As evidence, I attached news clips to corroborate the fact that blackbucks in Cholistan Desert and Lal Suhanra Park in Bahawalpur had been deteriorating and requested the honourable Lahore High Court to exercise its judicial review powers under Article 199 of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973 to issue a writ of mandamus to the Punjab government and the Director General of Wildlife Department so that they take adequate measures to save the endangered blackbuck species.
It was truly an uphill battle as it took more than three and a half years to prove that the government had not been bothered about protecting animal rights as enshrined in the Punjab Protection and Preservation of Wildlife Act 1972 as well as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. It was very painful to witness law officers appearing on behalf of the Punjab government and stating that our concerns amounted to frivolous litigation and attempts to gain publicity and media attention. It seems to have become a matter of routine that law officers appearing on behalf of the government, without any preparation, try to convince the court through baseless allegations regarding litigation being pursued to attract publicity. It is advised that such criticism should never discourage human rights activists or lawyers because whenever a new idea emerges or genuine public interest litigation is pursued, there are always some people in the legal community who show insecurity and resistance by spewing venom against other lawyers who do bring good causes to the court.
In this respect, one must express gratitude to the honourable Justice Mansoor Ali Shah who had taken this issue seriously during his time at the Lahore High Court. After his appointment to the Supreme Court, the honourable Chief Justice Yawar Ali, now retired, appointed a commission headed by Dr Pervez Hassan to propose measures to safeguard the vulnerable species of blackbuck, keeping in view the precautionary principle. Fortunately, the commission headed by Dr Hassan also presented similar findings that the population of the vulnerable species had been deteriorating and unless the Punjab government imposed a ban on their hunting, along with taking precautionary measures, the situation was not going to improve.
Dr Hassan also apprised the court that the litigation was absolutely genuine and was the need of the hour. He stated that the court must recognise its judicial review powers as the right to life contained in Article 9 of the Constitution also included the protection of biological diversity and the environment. The honourable Chief Justice was shocked to learn that from February 2016 to December 2016, 86 blackbucks had been born while 46 had already died due to the lack of care.
With dedication and diligence, Dr Hassan formulated a report which proposed that the government should not only increase its spending but also its capacity building for the protection of endangered blackbucks. Secondly, the commission also proposed that since the blackbuck had been listed in the Third Schedule of the Punjab Preservation and Protection of Wildlife Act 1972, no hunting permits should be issued.
The honourable court later summoned the Director General of Wildlife, Suhail Ashraf, who also endorsed the commission’s recommendations. The court then directed the Punjab government to implement those recommendations in letter and spirit for the protection of the vulnerable species.
In developing countries, it is very unfortunate that people lack awareness on topics like animal rights, which is one of the main reasons why animals are subjected to beatings, overwork and the infliction of cruelty. Educational institutions should play a pivotal role in enlightening the youth about animal rights.
The Holy Quran also contains many examples and directives about how Muslims should treat animals. According to the Quran, animals form communities just as humans do:
“There is not an animal that lives on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but they form communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they all shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.”
The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) strongly encouraged Muslims to show compassion towards animals and birds and repeatedly forbade cruelty towards them. He is reported to have stated that,
“Whoever is merciful even to a sparrow, Allah will be merciful to him on the Day of Judgement.”
The Prophet also said,
“A good deed done to an animal is like a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as cruelty to a human being.”
The government and civil society should focus on raising awareness about animal welfare in educational institutions, inform all relevant stakeholders and functionaries including police about animal rights, encourage media exposure, appoint animal health inspectors, and also celebrate the International Animal Rights Day, World Animal Day and World Wildlife Day in order to create awareness.
An earlier version of this article appeared in The Daily Times. Republished here with permission.
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