Law Commission report: Four former HC judges voiced deep anguish over treatment of poultry birds

Acting in their individual capacities, the four retired judges wrote to Law Commission chairman highlighting miserable conditions in which poultry birds are kept and urged framing of rules to push cage-free methods of poultry farming.

Behind the report of the Law Commission recommending an end to the widespread practice of confining poultry birds in battery cages – first reported by ThePrint Tuesday – are at least four retired high court judges: S.N. Dhingra, Manmohan Singh, M.M. Kumar and Kailash Gambhir.

The Law Commission had invited stakeholders to present their views to the commission before preparing and submitting the report to the government earlier this month. Responding in their individual capacities, the four former judges wrote to the commission chairman, retired justice B.S. Chauhan, highlighting the miserable conditions in which poultry birds are often kept.

In a passionate letter, Dhingra, a former judge of the Delhi High Court, wrote that the “cramped conditions in which they (chickens) are made to live abhors the human mind”. He also highlighted the common practice of trimming the beaks of these birds in order to prevent them from pecking each other.

“Such is the intensive confinement that the hens are unable to even spread their wings without touching another hen or the sides of the cages,” the letter by Manmohan Singh, another retired judge of the Delhi High Court, said. Bringing to light the treatment meted out to the birds by those in the poultry industry, Singh said, “many entities/businessmen are misusing the law for commercial benefits”.

Retired chief justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court M.M. Kumar called the practice “not only illegal, but unethical”. Appealing to frame draft rules, which would promote cage-free methods of poultry farming, Kumar also invoked the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. The act states that the dignity of birds must be maintained even if the ultimate objective is to kill them for their flesh for human consumption.

All the four judges invoked the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and agreed that under the provisions of the act, the unnecessary suffering to which both egg laying hens and broiler chickens are subjected, is illegal.

Subsequently, the Law Commission not only highlighted the concerns raised by the former judges, but also went a step further and called for a re-examination of the “imaginary boundary” created between human beings and animals in the modern legal system. In its opening lines, the report quoted English philosopher and jurist Jeremy Bentham: “The question is not, can they (animals) reason? Nor can they talk? But, can they suffer?”

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