A division bench of the Calcutta High Court headed by Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava directed the West Bengal government to place on record a policy to address the miserable conditions of horses used to haul tourist carriages near Victoria Memorial before the next hearing on 28 February.
The court issued this order following public interest litigation filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India and CAPE Foundation seeking an end to the use of horses for carriage rides near the memorial.
The court noted that the state government met with the petitioners and the issue has been referred to the West Bengal Department of Home Affairs. The court also allowed the petitioners and other affected parties to submit their suggestions on the policy to A Banerjee, the counsel for the state government, who will forward the proposals to the home department for its consideration.
“Easily startled, nervous horses and noisy Kolkata traffic are a bad mix,” says PETA India Principal Legal Counsel Swati Sumbly. “Mumbai has already banned the use of horses to pull tourist carriages, and Delhi has prohibited their use for carrying loads on tongas. Policy decisions are in place for the rehabilitation of horses and to help carriage or tonga owners and drivers to earn livelihood by alternate means, and Kolkata can do the same.”
The petition follows a recent study revealing that more than 100 horses used to pull tourist carriages in the city are anaemic, malnourished, and chronically starved; that some have severe injuries, including bone fractures; and that many are forced to live amid their own waste on filthy, decrepit, and illegally occupied premises in the city, including an encroachment area under a flyover.
PETA India recently submitted a detailed proposal to the joint commissioner of police (traffic) offering to take responsibility for the rehabilitation of unfit, unlicensed, and abandoned horses seized by Kolkata police or other law-enforcement authorities, with the support of local NGOs and animal sanctuaries.
A factsheet in the report lists about 10 road accidents in Kolkata involving horses, highlighting the dangers of using them to haul tourists. The petition also points out that horse-drawn carriages in Kolkata apparently violate various provisions of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960; the Kolkata Municipal Corporation Act, 1980; and the Calcutta Hackney-Carriage Act, 1919.
The petition mentions that after the Bombay High Court prohibited horse-drawn carriages in 2015, carriage owners and drivers in Mumbai started successfully operating eco-friendly electric carriages instead.