The Parliament of Bangladesh enacted the new Animal Welfare Act of 2019 earlier this year, replacing the century-old Cruelty to Animals Act of 1920. This new Act contains a more comprehensive enumeration of cruel and unjust treatment of animals and substantially raises the penalty for the same, while also keeping room for further elaboration through rules and gazettes. This law is a substantial leap forward in the recognition of the need to treat animals with kindness.
The Act has been promulgated with the objective of ensuring proper treatment and responsible rearing of animals and of preventing cruel treatment. The law greatly focuses on the treatment of domesticated animals, specially farm animals. Farms are defined in the Act as any establishment where five or more of the same or different kinds of animals are reared for business purposes.
The Act enlists a number of activities which fall within cruelty to animals, but does not restrict the list to the included activities only - in section 6(2), it creates an avenue of further additions through official gazettes. The existing provision lists activities such as overfeeding, underfeeding, long and unnecessary restrictions, failure to provide medical treatment, unpermitted use of animals for recreational purposes, using unfit animals for reproduction, etc. An important addition to the list is the prohibition of injecting or feeding harmful and unnecessary medicines - this is particularly relevant as there is a widespread practice of medicating farm animals with excessive antibiotics. It is also worth mentioning that the High Court issued orders during Eid-Al-Adha this year, directing the sellers to refrain from serving unprescribed antibiotics to the cattle.
The activities defined in section 6, subject to the exceptions under sub-section (4), are punishable with imprisonment of up to six months and/or a fine up to Taka ten thousand. The allowable exceptions, among others, include use of animals for research and academic purposes and sacrificing animals for religious purposes. Moreover, in section 5, the Act stipulates that the government may issue gazettes outlining the ways in which animals are to be sacrificed. This allows a scope to ensure a proper balance between religious activities and the need to adhere to the standards of animal welfare.
While not explicitly mentioned, the nature of the activities addressed therein implies that section 6 largely determines how domesticated animals shall be treated. But the Act does not only encompass domestic animals - it includes punishment for the causing of death of a stray animal as well. However, no clear mention of cruelty against stray animals (for example, dog culling) have been made although the High Court earlier issued directions against it. Alongside this, the Act makes acts such as poisoning animals or causing loss of their organ(s) punishable with up to two years of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to Taka fifty thousand.
An impressive aspect of the Act is that it refers to the standards of the World Organisation of Animal Health (OIE) in identifying the humane ways in which a diseased animal may be put to rest. Furthermore, the Act recognises painless death of a diseased animal through the use of euthanasia under the guidance of and with the written permission of a veterinary surgeon. The Act also iterates that registration and written permission must be obtained for farming establishments or use of animals for demonstration and training purposes respectively.
The Act gives authorised persons the power to visit and inspect any registered or unregistered farms within their jurisdiction and undertake appropriate steps as per the Act or its subsequent rules. However, in the absence of any requisite frequency of such inspection, it is likely that the well-formulated provisions of the Act will remain largely ineffective.
In summary, it can be said that the law does a commendable job of encompassing the standards of treating domesticated and farm animals. However, it falls short on proper determination of supervisory duties of the authority. On a positive note, the Act makes several mentions of the issuance of rules and gazettes to supplement or clarify its position, an avenue which can be utilised in order to bring the law to fruition.