Recently, a horse named Sultan was brutally injured after it was hit by a taxi near Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). It was reported that the mare’s carriage rider was speeding during the afternoon rush hour amidst taxis and buses, when he lost control and rammed the animal into an oncoming vehicle. The horse was admitted to hospital for multiple fractures, and, unfortunately succumbed to its injuries after few hours.
Similarly, in another incident a very frail looking horse pulling a heavy carriage with eight riders collapsed at the Gateway of India after he could not take the load. The owners in both the cases however were arrested for negligence but were let off with a warning.
The said incidents are few of those that highlight the fact that Mumbai is heartless when it comes to horses, which are ill-treated, abused and whacked mercilessly in public, and at times, left to fend for themselves when they have outlived their usefulness.
Take a stroll down Mumbai’s tourist hotspots like Marine Drive, Chowpatty or Gateway of India and one will find plenty of Victoria carriages, whose owners do their best to lure tourists into the carriage. Some of the horses tied to that carriage are weak, tired, malnourished and miserable creatures with festering wounds and calluses. When they collapse out of exhaustion, they are beaten mercilessly by their owners till they pass out.
Condition of horses and stables in Mumbai and other laws:
The Petition filed by the Animal and Birds Charitable Trust in the High Court has revealed that none of the stables in Mumbai are licensed under Section 394 of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, 1882. They are completely illegal and still allowed to continue. The BMC has on affidavit stated that the stables are so unhygienic that they cannot be issued a license. Also, the Victorias that operate in the city do not have valid licenses issued by the traffic department. The petitioners have discovered that Mumbai’s equines used for entertainment purposes, although protected under the law, have no real legal protection.
The ABCT has to their petition annexed a survey of 17 cart horses and 13 ponies at Nariman Point they used animal-based measures - direct observations of health, behavior parameters and fear of human handling. The survey showed that approximately 67 per cent of the horses were thin, having Body Condition Score (BCS) of 2 or less on a scale of 1-5 (1, very thin; 5 very fat), while limb-associated abnormalities were prevalent with 87 per cent of working horses. About 88 per cent of equines exhibited fearfulness and were unresponsive due to disease, exhaustion and over-stimulation in the crowded city environment, while 90 per cent equines showed gait abnormality over 12 paces of walk with hoof abscesses and maggoty wounds.
Under the Bombay Public Land Conveyance Act, 1920, horses, drivers and Victorias need to be licensed by the Mumbai Traffic Police. Section 10 disallows the licensing of an unfit horse, while Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, bans the driver who is guilty of treating an animal with cruelty.
“During our visits, we observed that no protection is provided to these animals from adverse climactic conditions. They were made to survive amidst garbage and filth and were provided with inferior quality of food and most of the horses were diseased stricken. Even though criminal cases have been filed against the stables, they continue to operate,” said Arish Khajotia of Mumbai for Horses.
Bhuvaneshwari Gupta, Campaign Coordinator, PETA states, “The horses are often forced to carry more than four passengers including a driver, despite the legally permitted limit of only four people. The November 2011 interim order of Bombay High Court which directed the BMC to confiscate any horses, who were being kept illegally by the carriage industry in decrepit and filthy stables that did not have licenses is yet to be implemented.”
Despite the Prevention of Cruelty to Draught and Pack Animals Rules, 1965, which prohibits the use of animals for draught and pack purposes in any area where the temperature exceeds 37°C and during the period between 12 noon and 3 p.m., horses are made to work.
Criticism is not enough
Last year, a young mare, which was forced to pull a heavy bogey collapsed due to dehydration and stress and was whacked mercilessly with a stick by its owner at Kala Ghoda. Though the incident evoked criticism initially from individuals and activists, it never provoked the government to seek appropriate action.
“Even though India has a lot of scope to stop all sorts of cruelty on animals as per its existing laws, there is no political will to enforce the laws. The government, despite knowing that conditions of city roads takes no objection and allows transportation of animals,” opines Dr Chinny Krishna, Vice Chairman of Animal Welfare Board of India.
Victims of hit and runs
Apart from the flagrant brutality inflicted by the owners, horses are becoming victims of hit and run accidents. "Horses are not meant for city roads as they are jittery animals," Arpan Sharma, CEO of Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organization (FIAPO) states. “The noise and traffic of the city can cause a tired and stressed animal to run amok. These animals apart from the noise have to navigate the traffic which is constituted of cars and buses all this while pulling a carriage laden with people.”
Experts say that accidents generally happen due to the horseshoe, which is nailed on the feet. At times the owners rather than finding a shoe that fits the horse's foot, get the hooves brutally hacked to fit into smaller shoes making the horses unstable on their legs.
The constant pounding on the pavements and adverse road conditions results in faster muscle wear and tear. Most horses pulling carriages will have extensive shoulder injuries.
“Horses are actually not suited to ply on tar roads. The constant plying on tar leaves the horses with diseases such as laminitis. When an equine has laminitis it feels shooting pains up and down the limbs with every step it takes,” says N G Jaysimha of Humane Society International.
According to Col. J C Khanna, general secretary of Bombay Society for Prevention Cruelty to Animals (BSPCA) on an average around 5-6 horses are admitted into hospital every month.
“The horses which are brought suffer from multiple injuries, bruises and fractures. At times they bleed due to the spiked bits that are clamped in their mouths to control them. The cases increase during monsoon when the roads get slippery,” says Khanna.
Besides weddings, religious functions, political processions, horses are also being used for racing. During one such race, held on the Eastern Express Highway last year, two horses were severely injured when they collided with a taxi. The horses were left to suffer on the road. Over the years, there have been accidents in which even people have been seriously injured or have died.
Rehabilitation of drivers and doing away with carriages
Plants and Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) which have been rescuing horses in Vashi, Thane and Kalyan since 2005 has also been rehabilitating carriage owners along with PETA activists. PAWS activists after conducting a survey found that in Kalyan interestingly the owners wanted to give up the trade and wanted to switch to other lucrative profession.
“We have been trying to acquire auto rickshaw licenses for these horse owners so they can be rehabilitated. Interestingly most of the tongawalas in Kalyan and Vashi want to give up the trade and switch to some other profession,” says Nilesh Bhanage, executive director of PAWS.
It has been suggested that government should offer alternatives such as Tehbazari (street vending) sites and financial assistance for purchasing goods carriage rickshaws as worked out by Delhi government, when carriages were banned in 2010.
“In an era of BMW and Mercedes, it is safe to say with conviction that the carriages are no longer required for transport. Many things have gone into extinction and people have accepted it. The notion that Victorias are part of tourism is absolutely wrong. In modern India we are willing to sacrifice our animals and make them live in complete cruelty for the sake of a few misguided tourists,” explains Sharma. There are a total of 371 horses in Mumbai and 130 carriages.
The Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations, an umbrella body of animal protection organizations concerned with the welfare and protection of animals invited nominations for their awards for service to animals. The awards have seven categories and nominations are being invited for all categories. They can be made at www.fiapo.org/ifa12.php till July 30.
In 2011, FIAPO, hosted India’s first ever conference for animal welfare and is all set to organise its second conference India for Animals in Goa in November this year. The award functions are set to take place following the conference on November 18 in Don Bosco Auditorium in Panjim, Goa.