Image: Flcikr/Nicolas Sanguinetti. For the purposes of representation only

The Supreme Court has dismissed a petition seeking the mass killing of stray dogs. A petitioner who wanted to “totally destroy” stray dogs in India was told by the bench of Justices Dipak Misra and R Banumathi that “nobody can destroy stray dogs in entirety. They also have a right to live”.

There have been many cases of dog bites especially in Kerala and generally in India, and the court was hearing petitions seeking the culling of stray dogs. The court observed that although culling is permissible, there has to be a balance and a proper method has to be followed in doing so.

In Kerala, one lakh people have been bitten by dogs in 2015-16 according to reports with some being mauled to death. When an advocate told the court about how stray dogs pose a menace especially to children, the bench said, “Just because there are some stray dogs in a field or a school, they cannot be killed”. “They (stray dogs) have to be taken to shelter homes….if there is no way out, they have to be culled and not killed. But there has to be a method for it.”

Kerala, in particular, has a stray dog problem and residents are taking matters into their own hands to solve it. On October 6, around 150 dogs were allegedly killed in Mallapurram in front of a school. Vigilantes barged into the house of a woman who was sheltering a puppy in her home and killed the animal. Health Minister KK Shylaja had told the Kerala Assembly that they were in the process of administering the anti-rabies vaccine to all strays.

In September, some members of a youth wing of the Kerala Congress Mani group, a political party, beat 10 stray dogs to death, strung their corpses up on a pole in Kottayam. These members then took the corpses to the local post office and demanded the dogs be sent to Union Minister Maneka Gandhi.

An alumni association of a college in Kerala’s Kottayam had distributed air guns to tackle the stray dog menace in October 2016. In October, the Supreme Court had slammed the State Government for its inaction to control the stray dog population and had asked why only Kerala and not other states had that problem.

India has 30 million stray dogs and more than 20,000 people die of rabies every year according to the BBC. This has led to civic bodies asking courts to allow them to kill the animals to tackle the problem. Humane Society International’s (HSI) Andrew Rowan says that India needs affordable vaccination and a spaying programme for its strays rather than putting them down indiscriminately.