The incumbent government has, in its stint of about three and half years, been forced to go on the back foot after initiating some ambitious measures more than once. The latest addition to the list of measures it has now officially withdrawn is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Aquarium and Fish Tank Animal Shop) Rules, 2017. A notification issued November 30 withdrew the original notification GSR 493(E), dated May 23, 2017. The notification on cattle GSR 494 (E), which has also come in for opposition from various sections of the society, is also on the way to be annulled. The sufferers in this case would undoubtedly be the animals kept in captivity. The government has bowed to representations made by people maintaining aquariums that they will not be able to pay Rs5,000 to get their establishments registered as many of them are living below the poverty line. In protecting the interests of humans, the equally important rights of animals are being ignored.
The notification, initially issued by the government, had several vital clauses aimed at keeping aquarium animals out of harm’s way. For instance, the notification had specified that the tanks in which animals are kept, housed or displayed should be in accordance with standards specified and guidelines published by animal welfare boards. The notification also specified that fish that are not compatible with each other should not be housed in the same tank. Emphasis had also been laid on making special efforts for the creation of conditions within the tank that are as close to the natural environment of the creatures as possible. Further, the notification had prohibited the sale or display of animals in fish bowls and fish tanks that are of capacity below 60 litres. There were also specifications regarding the quantity of water that the aquarium should contain in relation to the size of fish. For freshwater fish, the notification had specified that tanks should have at least 4.55 litres of water for every 2.54 cm of total fish length excluding the volume taken by fish tank additions such as rocks and other ornamentation. With regard to oxygenation, the notification laid out that the water should remain above 80 per cent and must be regularly measured and adjusted. Of course, the state animal welfare boards were given the powers to impose conditions that they deem fit to implement.
Most rules mentioned in the annulled notification were essential for the maintenance of conditions that ensure comfort for the animals in captivity. In the absence of such regulations, the animals are bound to be maintained in unhygienic conditions that will not only place them in great stress but could even cause death. It is inhuman to be dismissive of the basic survival conditions of these benign creatures. The government could have adopted a different approach to the issue than merely coming up with guidelines and restrictions. If there are people who cannot afford to maintain aquariums in accordance with set standards, they have no business to do business with living creatures. By withdrawing the notification, the government has left the door ajar for blatant violation of animal rights to creep right back in.