A paradox of our times is the debate whether human life or the life of stray dogs is more valuable! Has such a debate ensued in India? Yes, it has, and it’s unfortunate!
According to the report of the Working Group on Disease Burden for the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017), Govt of India, the number of human deaths in India due to rabies is 20,000 every year of the total of 55,000 global deaths. Estimated number of animal bites in India amounts to 1.75 crore/year. The actual number today might have multiplied many times, because the increasing instances of stray dog bites reported through the media nowadays testify so.
The paradox I want to point is that the toll oftentimes is much higher than those we suffer owing to terrorist attacks or natural calamities in our country. And yet this issue hasn’t received the needed national attention; is it because the affected ones are the most ordinary people in society?
Various records collected through RTI by Stray Dog Free Movement (SDFM), a registered society committed to spreading awareness on this issue across the country, are alarming as well as eye-opening. As per information collected from the Directorate General of Health service, National Centre for Disease Control, Govt of India, in the year 2014, the number of dog bite cases reported by Govt Hospitals in the country was 58,17,622. This has increased to 64,56,973 in 2015, indicating that the increase in the number of dog bite cases in the last one year alone has been 6,39,351. Remember, this number does not include those who avail treatment for dog bites from hospitals other than Govt hospitals. Hence the actual number of people, bitten by stray dogs in a year, in our country may well exceed one crore.
Each victim is required to take the anti rabies injection as there is no other option available to prevent a possible Rabies attack. Anti-rabies injection costs heavy and it turns out to be a billion dollar business in India. With the increase in stray dog population, the stray dog bites have also increased, benefiting only the anti-rabies vaccine companies. Though, it is the responsibility of the Govt and the Local Bodies to keep the stray dogs away from roads and public places so as to provide a safe and clean living environment for the people and to achieve our goal of ‘Swachh Bharat’, this issue is not given the importance it deserves, due to reasons unknown. At the same time, the Local authorities and the Govt are adopting certain steps, namely enforcing the ill-conceived provisions of ABC (Dogs) Rules 2001, which are directly encouraging the uncontrolled growth of stray dogs, resulting in spending huge amounts from the Govt exchequer towards anti rabies medicines and immunization of stray dogs. And if people doubt a possible illegal nexus between the hardcore stray dog lovers and the anti-rabies vaccine mafia, they can’t be blamed.
Yet another piece of information SDFM collected under RTI shows that even though a total budget of Rs. 50 cr has been allocated for National Rabies Control Program for the 12th FYP, the spend so far has been only Rs 4.8 cr., which is a clear indication of the disinterest of the authorities in controlling rabies in our country.
Death due to rabies is considered to be the worst and most horrific death. No one with a humane heart can stand the sight of a rabies patient facing his/her impending death, tethered to the coat like an animal, away from friends and dear ones; barking like a dog and unable to drink even a sip of water. The question is, can we not prevent this cruel death to thousands of our brethren every year?
While the number of stray dog bites is increasing, as can be seen from the statistics quoted from the Directorate General of health service, there is no system in place for taking care of the victims of stray dog attack, by providing free treatment immediately or for compensation to the victims for the damages. It is true that free anti rabies vaccination is available at few District Hospitals and Medical Colleges; but quite often, there is non-availability of medicines and the patients are forced to buy the medicines from outside pharmacies, spending huge money.
In certain cases where little children are attacked on their faces, huge amount of money is to be spent for treatment and for subsequent plastic surgery, for which there is no facility at Govt hospitals. Similarly, people who are suffering from the side effects of anti-rabies injection such as partial or total paralysis, nervous system disorders, kidney problems etc. are also not supported in any way to meet their medical expenses and to bring them back to normal life. Most of these victims are ordinary, poor people who earn their daily living by doing manual jobs. A stray dog bite and subsequent treatment make them unable to work at least for over a week, leading to loss of their daily earnings.
India is perhaps the only civilised country in the world where stray dogs are not only tolerated but encouraged under legal protection. it is unfortunate that when the ABC (Dogs) Rules 2001 was made, it happened to be a rule to protect stray dogs in preference to human beings and no provision was made to protect the victims or for providing free treatment or compensation. The ABC (Dogs) Rules, in its present form, is specifically made to protect the stray dogs only and no consideration is shown to human beings or to the victims of the stray dogs.
According to another RTI survey done by SDFM, it was found that none of the Local Self Govts in the state was able even to partially implement the ABC (Dogs) Rules due to its illogical and ill-conceived clauses. The situation across India is no better. Hence, considering the impracticality and ineffectiveness of the ABC (Dogs) Rules 2001, it should be amended at the earliest, for the sake of the millions of affected people in the country, and for upholding the value of human life.
When a pet dog bites someone, the owner of the dog is held responsible for the damage. Likewise, in the case of stray dog bites, the local body/Govt is to be made responsible for the damage; i.e., for meeting the entire medical expenses for treatment and also providing compensation for the victims as done in the case of road accidents etc. Funds are allocated by the Govt for anti-rabies vaccination and stray dog welfare, though most of it goes to various pockets, all from the exchequer. If the stray dog bite victims in the country (whose number comes to nearly 2.5 to 3 crore on an annual average) are to be paid compensation by the govt, which in all moral responsibility they should be awarded, the govt will have to burn a big hole in the hapless tax-paying common man’s pockets. Is our govt in a position to meet such an extravaganza for stray dogs, when thousands go hungry and without shelter?!
To put forth a humble suggestion as a solution to this dilemma, the govt can moot a pet dog ownership cess, say Rs. 200 to Rs. 2,000 depending on the cost of the breed one owns. I am sure the govt will be able to raise funds more than enough to spend for the sheltering and welfare of stray dogs, without bothering the tax money of common people, which should be primarily used for poverty eradication, better health facility and education. If the plan is acceptable, what we’d need next is committed group of people and a transparent machinery to execute this in a time bound manner.