Overloaded donkey carts — also those pulled by a horse or a mule or an ox — are a common sight on the city roads, particularly at night time. These carts are loaded clearly in excess of the capacity of the animal. But the practice goes unchecked as the only regulatory authority in Punjab — the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) — has virtually stopped working because of a lack of staff and resources.
Currently, the SPCA has a total of 18 inspectors and 36 guards in Punjab, out of which only two inspectors and four guards are meant for Lahore. Almost 98 percent of the Society’s budget barely covers staff salaries and the rest (1.5 percent!) is left to spend on animals’ welfare.
According to reports, the SPCA has not been upgraded ever since it was established in 1890. The flaws are far too obvious. For instance, the two inspectors and four guards who are supposed to check incidents of animal cruelty/overloading in and around Lahore, stand on different roads, particularly where there are iron shops and markets of furnace, scrap, grain and vegetables in Badami Bagh, Akbari Mandi, Misri Shah, Lakhudair and Naulakha Loha Bazaar. There are dozens of bazaars and markets in the city where the carters load the beast of burden. But the society for its limited staff is unable to cover these areas.
The duty timings of the SPCA are normally from 8am to 5pm and the carters are aware of this. Therefore, they (the carters) do not pull out the animal during these hours.
The SPCA Acting Chief Inspector Abdus Salam says there was a time when the society had offices and staff all over the country and it would work effectively. “But today, it has been confined to Punjab.
“In many districts, the SPCA does not even have its own offices,” he adds. “The personnel don’t have the facility of the office vehicles and they have to commute to far-flung areas on their own. Come to think of it, they aren’t even entitled to a petrol allowance and they buy their uniform from their own pocket.
“Given these conditions, how can you expect the society to function? How can the staff help to treat the injured animals when they themselves are in need of help?”
According to Salam, “We’ve been trying to change the decades-old anti-cruelty laws in order to make them more effective but we cannot do so when the Livestock Department and the University of Veterinary Sciences and Animals are not interested.”
The SPCA Acting Chief Inspector claims that despite working with the society for over 20 years, he and his colleagues have not been regularised.
In response to a query, he says, “If the animals exceed the approved weight, their muscle joints become weak and their life gets shorter.”
The SPCA does not have vehicles to take an injured or an overloaded animal to the SPCA centre. The city district government neither registers the new animal carts nor does it keep a record of the old ones already plying on the roads. All this makes it difficult for the SPCA to issue tickets to the violators of overloading laws. They have no option but to take the animal and its master to the SPCA centre. A carter knows that it is not easy for the SPCA guard to detach the animal from the cart and pull it to the centre. So, he takes full advantage of this situation.
On the other hand, if an SPCA official is determined to carry the animal to the centre, he needs to ask the SPCA guard on duty with him who will most probably tow it with his bicycle. That’s the only way he can manage the task.
A city district government official tells TNS, on condition of anonymity, that the Lahore Municipal Cooperation (LMC) registered animal carts some 14 years ago. After it was replaced by the City District Government, the registration of the carts was shut.
“Hence, the City District Government does not have any records of registered or unregistered carts,” he declares.
An iron merchant based in Badami Bagh says, “We don’t hire carts to deliver the goods to where the customers want us to. It is the customers who arrange carts to carry the goods.
“In a bid to save some money, extra burden is larded on the cart pulled by a single animal. The carter too has no sympathy with the beast; all he wants is to make the customers happy.”
A carter says that the SPCA personnel often harass him in order to extract some money. “They must pick holes in our carts because that is the only way they can blackmail us. Even though we observe the prescribed amount of weight, we are stopped in the event of a minor bruise or cut they may spot on the animal. They carry the animal away and keep it in the centre at the pretext of treatment when they neither provide fodder for it nor treat it properly.”
Dr Qurban Hussain, Director, Punjab Livestock and Dairy Development Planning and Evaluation (PLDDPE), says the department supervises the functioning of the SPCA and is taking all necessary measures to upgrade and revamp the society.
About the low budget allocated to the SPCA, Dr Hussain says, “The society is like an NGO and in addition to the Punjab government funds it has its own pool of resources to bear its expenditure.”
He also speaks of the PLDDPE having tabled a bill in the Punjab Assembly to change the present Animal Welfare Act. “With the approval and the implementation of the new act, the SPCA will be upgraded and have more funds at its disposal. Meanwhile, the Livestock Department’s veterinary doctors are helping the SPCA in treating animals. Additionally, the department assists the society in implementing the existing Animal Welfare Act.”