Since several weeks, Bengaluru residents, those who are pet-lovers, have been upset at what Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has done. BBMP issued new pet licensing bye-laws and applied them with retrospective effect. Every municipality has the right to require mandatory registration of dogs (and all pets). But, de facto, these rules are usually about dogs. There is a true story about Lord Byron attending Trinity College, Cambridge, between 1805 and 1808. The statutes of the college prohibited dogs as pets within the boundaries of the college. Therefore, Lord Byron kept a tame bear as a pet, arguing that a bear was not a dog and the authorities had to bear with this affront, since this didn’t violate rules.
Section 399 of Delhi Municipal Corporation Act (1957) requires mandatory registration of dogs (it doesn’t say anything about other pets). A non-registered dog, without the required collar, can be detained and destroyed. Section 310 of New Delhi Municipal Council Act has similar provisions. How many dogs are there in Delhi? 2012 (19th) Livestock Census tells us there are 63,289 dogs in rural Delhi and 87,164 dogs in urban parts. That is an aggregate of 150,453 and most people will argue that this is an underestimate and that the number of stray dogs alone is at least 400,000.
How many of Delhi’s dogs are pets? By a pet, I mean a dog that lives within the boundaries of the house. I don’t mean strays or street-dogs fed and taken care of by animal-lovers. I couldn’t find any reliable numbers. However, the number of registered pet dogs is just 953. By no stretch of the imagination can this be right. Clearly, pet-owners don’t register their dogs. This may be because they don’t know about the mandatory registration requirements. It is unlikely to be because of costs (it costs Rs 500 for South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) and Rs 50 for North and East Corporations). Assuming one knows about mandatory registration, the answer must lie in procedural nuisance (SDMC has online registration, but the other two still have manual processes).
The objective is clearly to encourage registration, since that is desirable. This is something municipal corporations aren’t really equipped to enforce, unless the pet dog goes and attacks someone and there is a criminal complaint. Therefore, one should incentivise registration and not create disincentives. I am not arguing for the waiver of registration fees, the sum isn’t much. Consider SDMC’s rules: “The registration number and token, once issued, shall remain unchanged throughout the life of the dog”. That is a bit like a car’s registration number.
However, the registration is only for a year, not a lifetime. Why? Because vaccination certificates are required and those are annual. Hence, every year, there must be a fresh application with a fresh fee. You need to apply in March. If not, “the grace period would be two months, i.e. April and May. Thereafter, the penalty is 5% of the license fee and it would be charged for each subsequent month from the pet owners”. Note that registration imposes no legal obligation on the corporation and the owner is responsible (rightly) for all vaccination. Does this sound like encouragement of registration? Imagine having to register your car every time you got a pollution control certificate.
A few years ago, we lived in Vasant Kunj, in a DDA colony. There was a young man who lived just above us, in a 3-bedroom DDA apartment. He lived alone, except that he had pet dogs. We had no idea how many. They were rarely taken out for walks. We never saw those pets, but we smelt them, because of an awful stench that pervaded the area. Eventually, there were complaints against him, a public nuisance having been created. When the doors to the house were broken down by municipal authorities and animal welfare workers, 27 dogs (all unregistered) were discovered in that flat. I kid you not. The story featured in the papers then. So much for enforcement, unless a public nuisance is created.
Should municipal authorities be concerned with registration or cruelty towards dogs (27 in an apartment is obviously cruelty, but shouldn’t this be left to the presumed sense on the part of pet-owners)? Should, for instance, there be a cap on the number of dogs? This kind of confusion and multiplicity of objectives is the bane of all public policy. BBMP’s bye-laws, now held in abeyance because of protests, capped it at one dog per apartment (note that apartments can vary widely in size). If you live in an independent house in Bengaluru, the cap is three dogs. The multiplicity of objectives was then confounded even further.
Clearly, it is “cruel” to have large dogs in apartments (such restrictions are against Animal Welfare Board’s guidelines though). Therefore, BBMP produced a list of 64 approved breeds for apartments and therefore also got into the choice and encouragement of breeds. You have probably never heard of the Indian pariah dog as a breed. It isn’t a dog bred and recognised commercially. But, it is the dog found all over India and it is one of the world’s oldest breeds. It is a small dog. Nevertheless, it isn’t a breed approved of by the BBMP. Nor does BBMP approve of cocker spaniels or beagles (I don’t think I have seen half the breeds in the list of 64). I think all those interested in public policy formulation should read these bye-laws as a valuable lesson in how not to formulate policy.
The Author is Chairman, economic advisory council to the PM
Views are personal