| Around 6 p.m. on the last day of February, four-year-old Manjunath had almost settled for an early supper when his young neighbourhood friends called him out to play. The only son of a Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML) employee never came home alive. In a matter of minutes, a pack of dozen ferocious street dogs pounced on the tiny-tot and tore him to pieces. Onlookers chased the dogs away and rushed him to the nearest hospital, but little Manju had already became yet another fatal victim of stray dogs stalking India's Silicon Valley. |
Manujnath's was the second child to be killed by dogs in Bangalore in the last two months. In January, eight-year-old Sridevi, who lived with her parents in a slum cluster in the Chandra layout area, met the same fate when she stepped out of her home to fetch her father. The Bangalore City Corporation (BCC) was quick to pin the blame on the illegal meat shops in the area. In Manjunath's case too, the BCC was quick to pass the buck, saying the incident happened in a high security defence area and it was therefore the BEML authorities' responsibility.
For the BCC officials, who are used to protests and agitations over the ever-increasing cases of dog bites, waging war on the stray dog menace has never topped the priority list. The stray dog menace has never been an issue of concern for the officials or the governments as the majority of the victims belong to the oppressed classes of society. "Almost 45 percent of dog-bite victims are slum children playing on streets," points out Dr B. J. Mahendra, professor at Bangalore's Kempegowda Medical Institute and president of Association for Prevention and Control of Rabies in India (APCRI). He also points out that India adds 17.6 million rabies cases annually, which accounts for 80 per cent of the cases worldwide. The hospital he works in alone gets about 100 dog-bite cases a month. The government-run Victoria hospital too gets about 100 cases in a month.
Even as the city's urban infrastructure crumbles, it is these increasing cases of canine attacks that also reveal the under belly of the city's crumbling health infrastructure too. "How can you explain the death of a little girl who was attacked on a busy road in front of so many helpless and frightened onlookers?" asks civic rights worker Krishna Bhat, on whose PIL, relating to dog menace, the Karnataka High Court issued notices to the Centre, the state Government, the city corporation and other respondents.
Bhat has challenged the constitutional validity of the provisions of Rule 7, made under the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules 2001 and asked to declare it "unconstitutional". In his petition, he has also asked the state Government and the corporation to comply with the provisions of Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2000. The petitioner pointed out that the Union of India passed the Prevention of Cruelity to Animals Act 1960, under which it has issued several rules, which states that the capturing of dogs shall be entertained on specific complaints relating to dog nuisance, dog bites and the menace from rabid dogs only.
APCRI estimates that stray dog population in Bangalore is about 70,000. BCC officials, who have now roped in expert dog catchers from outside the city, including Kerala, have been successful in capturing more than 500 stray dogs since Manjunath's dreadful killing. The officials express their helplessness by saying that they are prevented from taking further action in this direction, than to sterilise and release the dogs in response to the protests by the well-funded animal rights organisations, who have managed to bring stray dogs successfully in the ambit of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960.
On the other hand, BCC Commissioner K. Jairaj comes up with some deviating figures. According to him, the city has 56,000 street dogs, contradicting the APCRI's figure of 70,000. "We have now initiated action against stray dogs on a war-footing," says Jairaj, while admitting that the Animal Birth Control Programme, initiated by BCC has not been effective by any means. There are more contradicting figures on the roll. A December 2001 KIMS community survey of dog bites, by professors M.K. Sudarshan, B.J. Mahendra and D.H. Narayan, the estimated dog population is around 3.2 lakh, 61 per cent of which fall in the category of stray dogs. The annual incidence of dog bites was 1.9 per cent. The magnitude of incidence was more in males (64 per cent) than in females. About 86 per cent of them received anti-rabies vaccination.
The former Lokayukta Justice N. Venkatachala, in a report on the stray dog menace submitted to the state Government two years ago, had observed, "It is ... agonising to know how human beings are left with no option, but to die in a miserable way when they become victims of stray dog bites.."
Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy has also jumped into the fray. "If the animal welfare groups cannot do their jobs properly we don't need their services. I have issued instructions to my officials to deal with this as an emergency and I am monitoring this on a daily basis."
The seriousness of the issue has made the situation a major concern for all the stakeholders. But the unfortunate denizens of the high-tech city will have to watch over their shoulders for canines on the prowl.