After over a year of struggle by animal rights activists against the IIT-Madras management, the Madras High Court on Thursday, December 9 ordered the release of 22 stray dogs that have been kept confined in an enclosure in the IIT-M campus since October 2020. These 22 dogs are the known survivors out of 186 stray dogs that the university captured under the pretext of vaccination and sterilisation last year. At least 57 of the captured dogs are confirmed dead. The whereabouts of around 110 dogs is currently unknown as the IIT-M management has refused to share the documents of alleged âadoptionsâ of these dogs. (19 dogs were moved to a different shelter).
The High Court on Thursday ordered the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) to ensure the release of the 22 stray dogs that are currently in the âdog parkâ inside IIT-M. The court asked GCC to release the healthy dogs at appropriate areas and to provide treatment to the dogs that are in poor health conditions. But to reach this stage, where the court has finally given an order, animal rights activists have had to fight an arduous battle, with IIT-M resisting any kind of inspection or questions.
An expert panel set up by the Tamil Nadu government to inspect the condition of the dogs had said that only 62 dogs of the total 186 dogs were in the shelter on November 29 and 30. However, by December 9, when the case came to court, this number reduced to 22 and IIT has given no explanation about what happened to the 40 other dogs in a matter of nine days.
Additionally, despite the request from Health Minister Ma Subramanian and state Animal Welfare Board, IIT-M has failed to provide the details of 34 adult dogs it claims were adopted from the âdog parkâ.
IIT ghosted inspection team for days
A report was submitted to the court by the team consisting of Director of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Services and its five committee members, members of Tamil Nadu Veterinary & Animal Sciences University (TANUVAS) and Deputy Commissioner (Health) of GCC, who inspected the three dog enclosures in IIT-M on November 29 and 30. This was when the HC was hearing a petition filed by Arun Prasanna, the founder of People for Cattle in India (PFCI), who alleged that the enclosures were illegal and urged for the release of the dogs. But conducting an inspection for this report was not easy.
Shruti Vinodh Raj, a member of the hospital committee, TANUVAS, who was also part of the committee, tells TNM that IIT Madras did not even cooperate with the inspection team. âWhenever an inspection date was asked for, the IIT-M management never gave it straightaway. They always took a couple of weeks to rectify a few things and maybe also to dispose of the dead bodies of dogs before inspection,â Shruti alleges. âWe asked on November 7 for an inspection, but they allowed us only on November 29,â she says.
The report submitted to the Madras HC by this inspection team states, âThis inspection was requested via email on November 7, 2021 but a response was received only on November 24, 2021, following which a visit on November 29 was scheduled. It was not made easy to record the evidence required due to resistance from Jeeva Karunya Animal Welfare Trust (JKAWT) personnel, but eventually the latter relented. Due to rainfall the inspection was held on November 29 and 30.â
Jeeva Karunya Animal Welfare Trust mentioned in this report is a trust based out of Nagercoil, engaged by IIT-M to sterilise and vaccinate dogs.
The report further says that they were not given access to shelter three inside the IIT campus. âImportantly, it was difficult to get access inside shelters, especially the third shelter. During my five inspections, I have visited the third shelter only once, that too after persisting for a long time. Interestingly this third shelter is far away from the other two shelters,â says Shruti.
When Health Minister Ma Subramanian inspected the dog enclosure in October, there were reportedly 87 dogs at the enclosure. Following this on October 22, due to poor health, 19 dogs were adopted by the committee members, leaving 68 dogs at the campus.
However, when the team visited for inspection in November, IIT-M claimed there were only 62 dogs and five more dogs were adopted. Hence overall 34 adult dogs have been adopted from the enclosure, stated the report. But IIT has not provided any details of these adoptions.
âThere is no proof to these adoption claims. The whole point of an inspection is to look at records alongside the actual realities on the ground, but when the records themselves are not submitted, there is no validity to their claim. IIT-M has not submitted an adoption copy to either the committee or the court,â points out Shruti.
A log lying inside shelter 3 that was kept hidden from committee during inspection at IIT-M
Why IIT-M started capturing stray dogs
With improper solid waste management and loud noise being a threat to wildlife at the IIT-M campus, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered IIT-M to form a committee and curtail the concerns raised in the case filed by animal rights activist Antony Rubin in 2017. Following this, a committee was formed in December 2019. However, in 2020, IIT-M captured 186 stray dogs, alleging they were attacking and killing the wildlife on the campus, such as deer and blackbuck.
Further, IIT-M roped in an NGO to sterilise and vaccinate the dogs and began confining the stray dogs inside three enclosures from October 2020. Despite repeated calls from a few students and faculty alongside animal activists, IIT-M refused to release the dogs or to allow anyone to care for the strays confined inside the âdog parkâ.
Following this, a petition was filed by animal activists at the Madras High Court to release the stray dogs. And in September this year the court also ordered the state government to make sure IIT-M does not house stray dogs.
Meanwhile a case was also filed against IIT-M registrar Jane Prasad by a Bengaluru-based animal activist for illegally capturing stray dogs that lead to the death of more than 50 dogs.
âIt is nowhere necessary to capture dogs to preserve deer because many educational institutions in Chennai city face a similar situation of deers and dogs inside the campus. How is the problem uniquely specific to IIT?â questions Shruti.
âIn Surat, when stray dogs were removed from a locality, the rat population went up, the plague struck, leaving 56 people dead and 800 people in five surrounding states affected from the disease. There is an ecological balance we need to maintain and community dogs do play a part in it,â she explains.
Though the animal activists involved in the case finally won and were able to get at least the remaining 22 dogs out of the enclosure, they say the process was mostly delayed due to Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) and other departments misleading the court.
Poor conditions of a dog confined inside illegal shelters at IIT-M
Narrating the whole legal battle, Arun Prasanna, the founder of People for Cattle in India (PFCI) who also petitioned the court for releasing the dogs on January 21, 2021 says, âAfter coming to know about the incident, we sent a representation to IIT-M on October 28, 2020. And another representation to the chairman, AWBI, in December 2020. But as we did not get any response, we filed a petition at the court in January, urging them to release the dogs.â
Arun says that though this issue could have been rectified early, saving at least 57 dogs from dying in the process, IIT-M that is considered as a premier institution did not want to accept their mistake. âThey also took our petition at court personally,â he says.
âIIT-M is so influential that they were able to make AWBI give a false report that dogs are in good health,â Arun alleges. âAWBI, that is stern in other cases, was biased with IIT-M. More than 100 days after the capture of the dogs, AWBI inspected the enclosure in February 2021 and gave IIT-M a clean chit,â he says.
Arun further says that all the departments until December 9 were siding with IIT-M, keeping the court confused about the facts.
âWe are glad the court did not fully believe the government departments and kept the case open. However, as the departments that were supposed to reveal the facts were lying, the court verdict was delayed and dog deaths increased at an alarming rate. From 186 dogs, there are only 22 dogs currently at the enclosure,â Arun adds.
Speaking about further pursuing the case legally, Arun said that they will urge for a police complaint to be filed against IIT-M management as they have murdered more than 50 dogs. âIf need be, we will urge for a higher police body to hold an inquiry as this is a premeditated crime,â says Arun.
âThere is huge support we have got from the present government, members of the committee and other animal activists. Hence the verdict by the court is a victory to all,â he says. Meanwhile, a source tells TNM that many dogs have allegedly been buried inside IIT-M campus.