ANIMAL LIABILITY IN INDIA; PART-2

CASE LAWS-:

To understand the liability for keeping dangerous animals, there are some important case laws which are discussed below:

A).   STATE OF HIMACHAL PRADESH AND ORS. VS. SMT. HALLI DEVI1-

In this case the plaintiff one smt. Halli devi a resident of a small village in Himachal Pradesh, was going to her cattle shed for the purpose of feeding her cow on 27/3/1989, but was attacked by a black bear on her way which resulted in several injuries such as; loss of complete eyesight(left eye), Compound fracture of left mandible, Fracture of nasal bone, fracture of right frontal bone, frontal sinus, maxillary sinus with severe facial disfigurement, and fracture of both bones left forearm, her medical assessment concluded the disability to 100%. The state government also granted her an ex gratia relief amounting RS. 5000/-, but the plaintiff still filed a suit on 9/12/1991, claiming that the defendant, the divisional forest officer had let loose of bears and other wild animals under the wildlife (protection) act,1972, and as a result she was attacked by a black bear leaving her permanently disabled. The defendant however submitted that the bear wasn’t let loose by them, and subsequently raised legal objections to the suit, on 29/7/1995 the trial court dismissed the petition, as the plaintiff failed to prove that the black bear was let loose by the defendants. The plaintiff then appealed to the district judge who subsequently reversed the trial court’s order, and gave her a relief of RS. 50000/-, after deducting the RS. 5000/-, already received by the plaintiff. Aggrieved by the decision of the district judge the defendants appealed in the high court of Himachal

2 State of Himachal Pradesh and others vs. Smt. Halli Devi, A.I.R. 2000 H.P. 113, (H.P. H.C. 2000).

Pradesh, in this the counsels argued that the court did not have jurisdiction under section 60, sub section(2), of the wildlife (protection) act, 1972, which states that the central government or state government, or any of its employees or officers, cannot be sued for damages caused or likely to be caused for anything which is done in good faith or intended to be done in good faith under this act. The court out rightly dismissed this plea on the ground that the damage caused to the defendant in this case was not a result of an act done in good faith or intended to be done in good faith. The second argument made was that; the state is not liable for damages caused by a wild animal, in this the court decided that according to section 39 read with section (2)36 of the wildlife (protection) act, 1972, the wild animals roaming in the jungle although given protection by the state are not exclusively the property of the state.

Hence the decision dated 20/8/1997 of the district judge was set aside and the decision of the trial court dismissing the plaintiff’s plea was restored. The judgement in this case is hailed because of the correct interpretation of section 39 of the wildlife (protection) act, 1972, and pointing out that even though the wild animals living and roaming in jungles are protected by the state, they are not the property of the state. According to the scienter rule the onus is on the plaintiff to prove that the defendant is the owner/keeper of wild animal, and failing to do so as happened in this case the case shall be dismissed with parties left to bear their own costs.

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