It has been over two weeks since 10-year-old Praveen was mauled to death by a pack of dogs barely a kilometre from his house on the banks of the Vibhutipura lake in east Bengaluru. Distraught over the loss of her son, Murugamma, 32, still sits inconsolable beside a shrine devoted to him. His toys, a handful of clothes, and school bag are placed before a framed photo along with his old piggy bank, fashioned out of an old plastic container.
Rattling the coins inside, Murugamma recounted the incident of 29 August, when Praveen fell prey to a pack of stray dogs, while playing with his friends at the usual place. Both Murugamma and her husband Manohar, 39, work in the housekeeping department at Manipal hospital, where he underwent treatment and succumbed to his wounds.
“He had been badly bitten by around 10-15 dogs... I still think about how he must have called out for me, thinking I would come to his rescue but I couldn’t save him,” she said, fighting her tears.
Finding it pointless to hold on to her rage at her son’s tragic death, Murugamma cautions the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the city’s civic corporation, to be more careful.
“The BBMP needs to be more careful. A lot of children use the path by the lake to come and go, including my son and his friends. They should station a security guard there. What happened to my son shouldn’t be repeated,” she says.
No Wake-Up Call
Unfortunately, Praveen’s death was not a sufficient wake-up call for the BBMP and its officials from the animal husbandry department. Less than a week later on 6 September, five people, including three children and two adults were attacked by a single stray dog, over the course of a few hours.
Aakaash K, 14 years old, was one of the victims, who was attacked on the way to his school in Rajajinagar. He has a fractured finger and several wounds and lesions on his thighs and hands where the dog bit him.
“The dog just darted out from under a car and started jumping, biting me and tearing my clothes. It did not stop even after I fell down,” he said from his residence in KP Agrahara. He has been at home for a week, suffering from intermittent bouts of fever.
On 10 September, three children were attacked by stray dogs in Padmanabha Nagar in south Bengaluru, while they were playing outside their homes. Meena Mangala, the mother of 11-year-old Tanmay who was bitten, said that their locality was notorious for its stray dog population.
Even though BBMP officials were arrested on charges of negligence when it came to Praveen’s death, animal lovers and concerned citizens in the city have found the quality of the animal birth control (ABC) and anti-rabies vaccination (ARV) programmes to be dwindling in quality.
No Clarity on Stray dog Numbers
While over 1,90,000 cases of dog bites have been reported to the BBMP in the last decade, the BBMP has no clarity on the population now. According to the 2012 census, there are 2,95,000 stray dogs under BBMP’s limit.
From April-July, 2018, senior BBMP officials claimed that approximately 15,000 sterilisation procedures had been conducted across all eight zones and close to Rs 1.64 crore spent on controlling the stray dog population in the same period.
Problems With Sterilisation
A long-term administrator of the birth control programme in the city, operating a centre for nearly a decade, claimed that inexperienced and money-making individuals would often get permission for conducting the population control programme, simply because it meant lower expenditure for the civic body.
In fact, a section of the 2009 Supreme Court judgment regarding the implementation of population control measures makes the same observation, even noting that in many cases the organisations did not bear recognition from the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) – a mandatory requirement. This consequently leads to several other best practices being disregarded.
The veteran sterilisation operator also said that migration of dogs from other districts was increasing due to the greater chances of finding food. For instance, a large number of dogs in Bengaluru’s Mahadevpura have been observed to have come from Hoskote.
BBMP Commissioner Says ‘Hands are Tied’
According to Manjunath Prasad, BBMP commissioner, ever since the onset and implementation of the national guidelines regarding animal birth control in 2009, the civic body’s hands were tied. Prior to implementation of the new guidelines that prohibit relocation of dogs, as well as culling, the BBMP resorted to various measures, including electrocution.
“We have only two intervention methods open to us: population control and fighting rabies. What is the correlation between dog bites and dog population? We have been following the national mandate as well as we can. If anybody has any better suggestions, we are also open to them,” he said.
Citizens Forum Rendered Ineffective
A group of concerned citizens and animal lovers came together months ago, to form the Citizens for ABC or CABC, in order to become the link between the BBMP and civil society, as well as those administering the birth control programme. However, the initiative got a lukewarm response.
“We were almost functioning as quasi BBMP for some time as we circulated information pamphlets about procedure and the law, and even provided training to less experienced practitioners. The BBMP throwing up their hands and saying ‘we can’t cull, so we can’t control’ is not done. If the rules laid down by the SC had been followed starting from a few years ago, we would have been able to see the difference on the ground now,” said Priya Chetty-Rajagopal, one of the members of CABC.
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