Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Going to the dogs, literally

The Mumbai High Court recently passed a landmark judgment - the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC for short) can now cull stray dogs, especially if they are a nuisance.

This is a welcome move, and a long-overdue rescinding of the very unfortunate blanket ban on culling that was introduced over a decade ago. Since then, the number of strays in mumbai has skyrocketed, with numbers such as 60,000 - 4,00,000 being trotted around!

Of course, sundry animal rights activists are aghast. This is not surprising -- for their very existence is totally dependent on the perpetuation of the nuisance of stray dogs.

And a nuisance is what it is -- over 18,000 people fall victim to dog bites every year in Mumbai. This is merely the number a) reported and b) in government hospitals. The real number is likely to be much higher. Strays also pose a real threat in other ways -- they harass pedestrians, bite children and 'gang bark' through the night -- depriving citizens of sleep.

As a result, strays are persona non grata all over the world. If found, they are impounded, handed over to volunteer animal lovers to keep as pets within their premises. Those that are not 'rehabilitated' are put down with lethal injection or other humane options.

So why did the HC have to pass this judgment, that too to fix a silly 'no kill' rule that had prevailed for some 15 years?

Like all debates in Mumbai, this one too is an example of how powerful, connected vested interests can corner a decerebrate administration into misgovernance.
Disallowing killing of strays was a blatant piece of misgovernance -- because it placed the safety of stray dogs over that of the populace.

The way to get this is to use one of the oldest tricks in the book to fool the saamanya nagarik: re-frame the problem. 'Stray activists', whose survival depends upon these mutts reframed the argument as a "animal rights" argument. The saamanya nagarik, unsure how to respond, agrees, that animal rights need to be protected. A few ask tough questions, but their voices are soon drowned out. Flood the newspapers with photos of singlet wearing girls holding animal rights logos and you have a fait accompli.

However, ours is a system with checks and balances -- and justice, even though slow, grinds exceedingly fine.

But the battle is not over yet -- 'stray activists' may even hold a dharna in front of Vilasrao Deshmukh (or his replacement, i forget his name) to pass a 'let strays remain stray' ordinance. Bolstered by images in ToI, He may oblige.

This story is an exact rehash of the Mumbai taxi story -- 15 million mumbaikars cannot get safe, clean, transparent taxi services because 55,000 existing cabbies want the status quo to remain.

So how do we get out of this -- how do we save Mumbai from itself?
Simple: vote in an administration that will place the interests of all citizens above the interests of specific identities.

That means voters must vote for leaders who promise governance, not distribution of scarcity on identity-based criteria (free power for x, college seats for y, you know the spiel).

That means a literate, economically aware populace that can make the tradeoff between short-term issues and long-term improvements.

Till then, be prepared to travel in a dirty, bone jarring, rickety old taxi, a stray dog in tow.