Despite repeated calls by animal rights groups to not relocate stray dogs of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), Mayor Barrister Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh's instructions to relocate canines have been carried out over the last two days.
While activists and community members strongly denounced the move to relocate sterilised and vaccinated dogs to the Matuail land fill, DSCC officials stayed on the defense when contacted by this newspaper, eventually giving a quizzical legal justification.
Tauhid Tanjim, a master's student of Dhaka University (DU) and co-founder of Animal Welfare Club of Dhaka University, has been feeding over a hundred dogs in the Dhaka University area since the university shut down in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. "On Monday, I heard that dogs were taken away from TSC. I immediately went and talked to shopkeepers in the area, and they said a vehicle of city corporation came, picked up dogs with nets, sedated them with injections and took them away. Eight or nine dogs are now missing. We had recently spayed and vaccinated these dogs," he told The Daily Star.
Asked about it, DSCC veterinary officer Dr Shafiqul Islam said they removed some dogs from DU area and left them in Matuail land fill because they were creating problems and there were "objections" against them. Asked if someone from DU campus area objected about dogs, he back tracked and said, "Not from TSC; dogs were taken from Ramna Park area." When this correspondent told him that Ramna Park is closed, and asked if someone from the area complained about dogs, he backtracked again, saying, "No there were not objections. It was the mayor's order." When reminded that relocation of stray animals is illegal as per the Animal Welfare Act 2019, he first said it was not relocation but "temporary relocation" and the dogs would return, and then said, "It is the mayor's order. You have to talk to him." He also admitted that some dogs were also picked up from Dhanmondi Lake area on Tuesday and shifted to Matuail.
'THESE ARE FRIENDLY DOGS, STERILISED AND VACCINATED'
Nona Ahmed, chairman of Stella Animal Welfare Foundation, says she also found out that dogs were loaded on a truck from Dhanmondi Lake and whisked away. "I have been feeding these dogs for the last four years. All these dogs are sterilised and vaccinated, and these are very friendly dogs. If they get sick, I treat them. There are no complaints about them; I know because I feed them daily."
"Dogs are taken from various areas and dumped in Matuail. That's not their territory. They will fight among themselves, and starve to death," said Ahmed. "Once these sterilised and vaccinated dogs are removed, other unvaccinated dogs will come and reproduce, and they will become a health risk for people," she said. "We sterilise and vaccinate dogs for people's safety, not dogs'. They [DSCC] cannot bring the dog population down to zero. I don't know what they are trying to do."
This correspondent also spoke to several shopkeepers at Dhanmondi Lake area about it, who said the dogs had friendly relations with parkgoers, and were not aggressive or dangerous.
A STONEWALLING TAPOSH AND A REFUTABLE LEGAL JUSTIFICATION
On Tuesday, this correspondent called and text messaged the mayor, his personal secretary, assistant personal secretary and personal assistant multiple times, requesting a quote from the mayor about it, only to be redirected to DSCC's Public Relations Officer.
Contacted, PRO Abu Nasher first said he is not aware of any official order about this, and that they were at a primary stage of deciding what to do regarding the mayor's "desire" to remove dogs from DSCC, based on complaints from people.
Later in the day, he contacted The Daily Star and said he talked to the mayor about it, but the comment on record would have to be from him as the mayor would not speak about it at the time. "Yes, we are removing dogs, giving importance to people's appeal. The clause of Animal Welfare Act that prohibits relocation of animals [Clause 7] applies to persons or organisations, but as per the Local Government (City Corporation) Act 2009, the clauses 15.3, 15.4, 15.5, and 15.10 of the 3rd Tafsil, clause 51 of the 5th Tafsil and clause 18 of the 7th Tafsil, the city corporation can relocate or even cull them."
Dog culling is prohibited across the country as per a 2013 High Court order.
Asked about the legal provision, noted public interest litigant Advocate Manzill Murshid told The Daily Star, "If the most recent law, in this case the Animal Welfare Act, has an overriding clause above previous laws, then it will have precedence over any prior law. If the clause is there, then the city corporation does not have any separate jurisdiction."
Clause 3 of the Animal Welfare Act indeed states clauses of the law will have precedence over contradiction in any other law currently in place.