Right to Life for Animals: Changing from Anthropocentric to Eco-centric Jurisprudence

Humans are the most powerful species in the world. At the famous Lusaka Zoo, in Zambia, there is a mirror which is kept in the cage. There is no animal in that cage and outside that cage, following words have been written “The World’s most dangerous animal”. In that mirror one can see himself, and that reflects the fear of men destroying their own future, with their own deeds.

People are destroying their own ‘right to life’ by using their freedom to exploit nature. Judiciary in India, has expanded the horizons of the, much debated and popular, Article 21. Ironically, it has indirectly given the right to life to nature. It is the nature from where we derive our life energy, and now are endangering it. The Judicial Activism is protecting the nature through the route of human’s right to enjoy healthy environment.[1]

Further, this wave of Judicial Activism has led to the incorporation of principle of Inter-generational equity and sustainable development in the right to life. There is increasing need to protect the nature and wildlife from extinction, as without them there would be no sustainable development. They directly or indirectly serve for the welfare of the human beings. Article 21 of the Constitution of India which guarantees the people of the country right to life and liberty, also cast a duty upon them to not to deprive other from this right. People by destructing wildlife, are depriving the other people from their life and liberty. Therefore, Article 21 is indirectly providing the right to life to animals.

 In N.R. Nair v. Union of India, [(2000) 2 KLT 625],  the debate was started by the Kerela High Court that, animals are also beings, having right to dignified existences and humane treatment without any cruelty. They only satisfy their need and not their greed, unlike humans. Court in clear word said:

“In this context, we may ask why not our educational institutions offer a course on “Animal Rights Law” with an emphasis on fundamental rights as has been done by the Harvard Law School recently. “If humans are entitled to fundamental rights, why not animals?” In our considered opinion, legal rights shall not be the exclusive preserve of the humans which has to be extended beyond people thereby dismantling the thick legal wall with humans all on one side and all non-human animals on the other side. While the law currently protects wild life and endangered species from extinction, animals are denied rights, an anachronism which must necessarily change.”

Jallikattu  Case – Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja

Recently, in a decision of Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja, [(2014) 7 SCC 547] Apex court has discussed the Article 21 in the context of the animals. It was a case concerning the violation of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA, Act), by the customary practice of ‘Jallikattu’.

Jallikattu is a practice where bulls are tamed or annoyed in inhumanely manner till they get enraged, and start running haywire. It is a Tamil word, which comes from “callikattu”, which is composed of two words “calli” means coins and “kattu” means a package. Therefore, it’s a sport in which, silver or gold coins tied on the bulls’ horns, and players fetch it, as an act of bravery.

Apex Court, said that the rights guaranteed to the animals under PCA Act are only statutory rights, and the same have to be elevated to the status of fundamental rights. It called the rights under, Sections 3 and 11 of the PCA Act, and Articles 51-A (g) and (h) of the Constitution, as the Magna Carta of animal rights in India.

Article 21 has indirectly covered under its umbrella every species, and blessed them with right to life and security, which includes depriving its life, out of human necessity. Article 21 protects life, and the word “life” has been expanded by the highest constitutional Court, so as to include all forms of life in the environment, which contains animal life also, which are necessary for human life. Honorable Court held that “life” in context of animals does not mean, mere survival or existence or instrumental value for human beings, but also life with some intrinsic worth, honour and dignity. It in addition enlisted these five internationally recognized freedoms for animals, such as:

(i) freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition;

(ii) freedom from fear and distress;

(iii) freedom from physical and thermal discomfort;

(iv) freedom from pain, injury and disease; and

(v) freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.

They are also called “Brambell’s Five Freedoms”. They have been elevated and equated with rights guaranteed to the citizens of this country under Part III of the Constitution of India, thought they find their place in Sections 3 and 11 of the PCA Act.


The A. Nagaraja, judgment, has limited the scope of the application of the Judgment, to the point when such animals’ life is necessary for human life, and has failed to give precedence to the need of nature i.e. going Eco-centric from Anthropocentric.

Supreme Court, in Centre for Environmental Law, World Wide Fund-India v. Union of India,[(2013) 8 SCC 234] said that sustainable development has Anthropocentric bias, and is not concerned with the rights of other species which live on this earth. Honorable Court explained that laws are made by men, and as a result they are anthropocentric, and rights of wild animals become of secondary importance.[2]

Anthropocentric approach always gives preference to the interest of the humans. On the other hand Eco-centric approach is concerned with needs of nature. In this approach unlike anthropocentric approach, non-humans also have intrinsic value, and human interest does not take automatic precedence. Therefore, following, the Eco-centric approach, to an extent the Apex court in A. Nagaraja held that Article 21 protects not only human rights but also casts an obligation on human beings to protect and preserve a specie from becoming extinct, and  to conserve and protect  environment, as these are also an inseparable part of right to life.

Now, treating animals cruelly is against the public morale and public order.[3] Bombay High Court in Public Interest Litigation of Animals and Birds Charitable Trusts and Others v. Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and others[4], has supported the Eco-centric view developed by the Supreme Court in above said judgments.

The Apex court has gone to the extent to use Article 21 to give life to animals, equivalent to that of humans. It has brought the rights of animals to be protected like a fundamental right. Therefore, it has reflected that the animals also have fundamental right under the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court still held the interest of the human beings to supersede the interest of animals. Hence, it has failed in its attempt to neutralize a speciesism which means favoring one’s own species.

Justice would be done, only if we transform our laws from the principle of anthropocentric to eco-centric, completely. Famous principles in International Environmental jurisprudence like sustainable development, polluter-pays principle, inter-generational equity have their roots in anthropocentric principles, so these must be changed and, Eco-centrism, should be promoted, which is nature-centred as well as life-centred, and humans form part of nature and flora-fauna have intrinsic value.[5]

[1] Hinch Lal Tiwari v. Kamala Devi, (2001) 6 SCC 496

[2] T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India, (2012) 3 SCC 277

[3] Jumbo Circus v. Union of India, June 6, 2000,O.P Nos. 155, 1066, 2187, 1141, 5086, 6378, 6148, 6032, 2029, 5616, 486, 2636, 6229, 8173, 9483, 3845, 430, 6352, 2460 & 11729 of 1999

[4] Animals and Birds Charitable Trusts and Others v. Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and others, Public Interest Litigation No.36 Of 2011, decided on 08.06.2015

[5] T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India, (2012) 3 SCC 277




Dhruv Chandora is currently pursuing 4th year of BA LLB (Hons) course at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab. A voracious reader and a keen learner, Dhruv is also a moot court enthusiast.

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