To ‘Live and Let Live’: Analysing the decision in Karnail Singh v. the State of Haryana

by Manvee Kumar Saidha


Animal welfare is a statutorily perceived subject in India. Though one may argue that this novel concept is restricted to texts — as provided under the constitution, numerous legislations and regulations — the satisfaction of its mere existence seem to have sufficed. India houses along with seventeen other megadiverse countries about sixty to seventy percent of the biodiversity of the world[1]. The animal kingdom in India, which is a combination of species from diverse origins[2] has been gradually inflicted with the consequences of human greed. Though protection is afforded to animals by law, its practical employment and impact have been perpetually limited.

Though there exist various legislations with regard to animal welfare, the primary source is the Constitution of India. Article 51-A(g) of the Constitution directs every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment which includes wildlife, and that it is the fundamental duty of all citizens to have compassion for living creatures. Clause (h) of the Article provides that, ‘humanism’ is to be developed along with the spirit of inquiry and reform. Article 48-A of the constitution requires the State to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country. Although these articles of the constitution, being directive principles of state policy,  are not justiciable, they provoke interpretation through an ecocentric lens in the courts of law.

Judicial pronouncements have played a significant role in provoking animal welfare and protection, taking, for instance, the case of Animal Welfare Board of India vs. A. Nagaraja & others[3], where the Supreme Court provided that animal welfare laws have to be interpreted keeping in mind the welfare and best interest of the species subject only to exceptions arising out of human necessity. Their Lordships also took cognizance of the following international standards of freedom set out for animals, which are required to be read with Sections 3 and 11 of The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act, 1960 in order to provide an integrated safeguard system :

  • freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition;
  • freedom from fear and distress;
  • freedom from physical and thermal discomfort;
  • freedom from pain, injury and disease; and
  • freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.

These provisions are afforded in addition to Article 21 of the Constitution which protects life and the word ‘life’ has been given an expanded definition to include all forms of life, including animal life. And as for its application, ‘life’ is purported to mean something more than mere survival or existence or instrumental value for human beings, but to lead a life with some intrinsic worth, honour and dignity. The court, through the judgement, acknowledged that the rights of animals is an issue of seminal importance, and is dealt with ‘under our Constitution, laws, culture, tradition, religion and ethology[4] …’.

To this effect, the judgement of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, in Karnail Singh vs. State of Haryana[5], wherein the court declared that animals (including those from the avian and aquatic species), are legal entities and simultaneously held that the citizens throughout the State are persons inloco parentis, who are to carry out such welfare and protection of animals, is a welcome step. This pronouncement makes Haryana, the second state to grant animals personality under law. The Uttarakhand High Court, in 2018, made a similar declaration in the case of Narayan Dutt Bhatt vs. Union of India[6]. Justice Rajiv Sharma, the judge who presided over the matter in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, was also a member of the bench of the Uttarakhand High Court, which conferred personhood to animals in this 2018 case. The verdict was given in response to a petition filed by Narayan Dutt Bhatt, who alleged that animals which were involved in transporting goods across the Indo-Nepal border were being treated with cruelty, and faced abandonment. Directions were issued to the Uttarakhand government and local authorities to ensure the welfare of domesticated animals and the prevention of cruelty, which was also to include stray animals.


When the police officials were on patrolling duty near village Nagla Megha Chowk on Meerut Road they received secret information to the effect that cows were being exported to Uttar Pradesh. The trucks bearing the notified registration numbers were stopped at a Police picket near the Yamuna bridge, before the Haryana-Uttar Pradesh boundary. A total of 29 cows were recovered, and the drivers, as well as conductors, were apprehended. The cows underwent a  medico-legal examination, and sent to the nearest Gaushala, after which a challan, on completion of all the formalities, was put up.

The learned trial Court convicted them, with an imprisonment sentence for a period of two years and a fine of Rs.1500 each, for the offence under Section 4-b/8 of the Punjab Prohibition of Cow Slaughter Act, 1955 (is applicable to the state of Haryana as amended by the Haryana Act 13 of 1981). The appeal was dismissed by the appellate court, but the sentence was scaled down from two years to six months. This landmark judgement is a consequence of the revision petition instituted against such judgment whereby the conviction imposed was maintained, but the sentence was reduced from two years to six months. The Punjab and Haryana High Court upheld the conviction but in consideration of the fifteen years already spent in criminal proceedings, the sentence of imprisonment was the period already undergone. The essence of the judgement is, however, the deliberation that was delivered to the issue of animal rights and the acknowledgment of their person.

The various laws and regulations that exist to ensure animal welfare were revisited. The judgement highlights the numerous statutory-texts pertaining to conditions of security with regard to transport of animals, prevention of any form of cruelty towards them, the requisite procedure of treatment and care, etc. that, though present on paper, have been ignored and gravely violated in cases such as the instant matter itself. In the discourse of the judgement the court also observed, and intended to ascertain, the prevailing responsibility that humans, and specifically the citizens of India, have towards animals. Beginning from the values asserted through the age-old Isha-Upanishads, the inherent traditions that encourage respect towards animals, to the national and international texts that confer a responsibility on society; enough emphasis has been laid on the formal and informal obligations owed towards the fellow animal-beings.

As regards the subject matter of legal personality the judgment dwells, and deeply so, into the jurisprudence and justification of allocating it to non-human entities. Referring to the case of Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, Amritsar vs. Shri Som Nath Dass & others[7], wherein their Lordships, of the Hon’ble Supreme Court attributed the allocation of juristic personality to the factor of necessity that arises on account of continuous human development. An entity is recognized as a juristic person for subserving the needs and faith of society. It simply connotes the recognition of an entity to be a ‘person’ in terms of the law which otherwise it is not. In other words, it is not a natural person but an artificially created person that needs recognition as that of a person in law. Further, taking from Professor Stone’s theories, it was observed that legal personality plays an important part in ‘making a thing count in the eyes of the law’. The conferral of legal personality upon the objects or beings devoid of rights carries with it the legal recognition that those objects or beings have worth and dignity in their own right[8].

Through an elaborate discourse on the origin and ideas of legal personality that followed, the court came to establish that there lies no necessity of possession of a human personality to be a ‘person’ in the eyes of law. The emphasis generally placed upon ‘reason’ as a uniquely human attribute is not plausible. Such emphasis attributes ‘reason’ to human beings as a species, whereas it is empirically evident that many individuals who are certainly human from a genetic point of view are partly or totally lacking in it[9].  Thus, nothing inherently opposing extending legal personality to animals was identified in the concept. The court rightly pointed the undeniable, and unfortunate truth that it is only when a personality is attributed upon an entity lacking legal rights, then only humans are able to conceive of it as ‘anything but a thing for the use of ‘us’ — those who are holding rights at the time.’ Taking into consideration what the label of ‘person’ could offer to the animals and seemingly no opposition to confer it, the court decided to recognise animals as parties to legal actions, thereby providing them with the independent standing that they currently lack. With such recognition, came responsibility. The need for an ‘administrator’ of such rights was required, and it was the citizens, who would exercise their rights and interests. In conclusion of the same, mandatory directions were issued to pursue the welfare of the animal kingdom.


The dignity that the animals deserve was suggested to be granted to them by including them in the community of legal persons. While the court emphasised that such action will force humans to see the value of animals for themselves rather than seeing them simply as the object of property rights. Legal personality is a choice and a construct of law. As also noted in the judgement’s conclusion, ‘the question of whether legal personality will be bestowed on animals depends on whether human beings are prepared to acknowledge that animals need and deserve full legal protection for their rights and interests.’ Judgements that accord personality to non-humans will continue to rise in the coming times. The direction in which our societies are headed will, in fact, necessitate this; take, for instance, the debate surrounding the personhood of artificial intelligence.

That being said, the recognition of animals as persons and consequent protection is, quite literally, the end to which the judiciary can intervene in the realm of animal welfare. These decisions can only take effect when the people themselves alter their behaviour in the direction as intended by the judgement. In this case too, it is the citizens who must validate the essence of this judgement through actions. To rejoice solely on the premise that by providing legal personhood, the state of animals will change for the better is simply dubious. The problem has never been the legal status of the animals, it has been the mindset of the people who handle them. While according personhood would afford a greater degree of legal protection, who is actually going to fight for it? The executor of the rights afforded to animals as ‘persons’ remains human — those who (mis)use them as a resource, treat them with absolutely no sense of dignity in the process, and most of those who have probably not (and will probably never) even read this judgement. If judicial decisions alone could compel the ‘just and fair’ initiative that every society seeks, the need for this judgement wouldn’t have arisen in the first place.

It is said that kanoon ke haath lambe hain, but are they long enough?

the author is a 3rd-year B.A.LL.B (Hons.) student studying at School of Law, Christ University.


[1] Dutt, Misra & Chatterjee, Explorations in Applied Geography, (2008)

[2] Peter Haggett, Encyclopaedia of World Geography: The Indian subcontinent, Volume 19, (2002)

[3] Animal Welfare Board of India vs. A. Nagaraja & others, 2014 (7) SCC 547

[4] Id.

[5] Karnail Singh vs. State of Haryana, 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 704

[6] Narayan Dutt Bhatt vs. Union of India, 2018 SCC OnLine Utt 645

[7] Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, Amritsar vs. Shri Som Nath Dass & others, AIR 2000 SC 1421

[8] Kelsen, Hans, and Albert A. Ehrenzweig. “Professor Stone and the Pure Theory of Law.Stanford Law Review, vol. 17, no. 6, 1965, pp. 1128–1157. JSTOR, Accessed 8 Mar. 2020.

[9] Valerio Pocar, Animal Rights: A Socio-Legal Perspective, 19 Journal of Law and Society (1992) pp. 214-230.

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