top of page

Animals as 'Legal Entities': The Curious Case of Karnail Singh

Written by Gracy Bindra

Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Law & Order

Fifth Year, BA. LLB. Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

Source: Kind Luxury

Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed below represent the opinions of the article's author. The following does not necessarily represent the views of Law & Order.



Case Name: Karnail Singh and others Vs. State of Haryana

Court Name: Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh

Citation: CRR-533-2013; 2019 SCC Online P&H 704

Date of Judgement: Friday, May 31, 2019

Coram: Justice Rajiv Sharma(1)


The Punjab and Haryana High Court promulgated the motto “Live and Let Live” with a 104 page order and 29 mandatory guidelines issued for uplifting the position of the animal kingdom. It entrusted animals with personhood and declared the citizens of Haryana to be the ‘guardians’ of the species. To end the long-drawn and cruel brutalities committed against animals, on 31 May 2019 Justice Rajiv Sharma directed the government to observe the directions of the Court and ensure that no individual harasses animals, or else they would be penalised. This article analyses the case by understanding the precedents, legislations, issues in the judgement and any existing lacunas in the case. The author has tried to draw reference from the international domain of animal protection jurisprudence. To conclude, the author elaborates upon the contradiction found between the scientific food chain and the eating of ‘legal persons.’

Keywords: Animal rights, Loco Parentis, Legal entity


“Live and let live” – Justice Rajiv Sharma

The animal kingdom in India is a combination of species of diverse origins.[1] According to one study, India along with several other countries is home to about 60-70% of the world's biodiversity.[2] The animal kingdom had been relatively more abundant and their natural habitat was largely intact up until the last century. It is in recent years that wildlife has faced deterioration due to increased human intervention and climatic change. Keeping in mind the unending needs of humans that possess grievous threats to the animal kingdom, there is an urgent need to protect and improve the receding habitat of our wildlife heritage by making wildlife management essential in our country.

Keeping the prevalent situation in mind, Punjab and Haryana High Court in its landmark case of Karnail Singh and others Vs. State of Haryana[3] on 31 May 2019, has done a commendable job by proclaiming the entire animal kingdom (including avian and amphibian species) as ‘legitimate elements’ that possess a particular persona with corresponding rights, obligations and liabilities of a living individual.

The Punjab and Haryana High court has time and again set an example for the whole country with regards to the rising urgency to promote the survival, preservation and conservation of Mother Nature. Justice Rajiv Sharma in particular through his landmark judgements has proven to be a staunch advocate of environmental issues, as he has advocated the imposition of exemplary/punitive/special damages in the form of amounts be deposited with the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change within a period of three months. Furthermore, the amount from the damages will then be used for the restoration of eco-sensitive zones as well as the surrounding wildlife.[4] According to the HC order, the scheme has to be framed within three months, and the restoration work has to be completed within a period of one year thereafter on ‘urgent’ basis.[5]

Amidst the controversies around cow slaughter, Jalikattu [6] and the dog-killing spree in Kerala, the judgment might be well ahead of its time, but whether it is in consonance with the time ahead or charts a different course is something that remains to be seen in the coming days.


The case started in 2004, when three trucks transporting 29 cows from one province of Uttar Pradesh to another were found violating the restrictions imposed on the export of cows for meat slaughter. The revision petition filed in 2004, was given finality in 2013 after a long drawn legal battle. In the first 100 pages of the judgement, jurisprudence of animal rights has been explained. The bench directed a state agency to enforce a number of specific standards for the transportation of animals. In this noteworthy judgement, the Punjab and Haryana High Court declared that all the fauna species would have statutory rights, same as enjoyed by the humans.

It further announced citizens of the country as loco parentis, a term which qualifies them to be the watchmen of the animal kingdom alongside an obligation to guarantee their survival, conservation, preservation and protection.

Justice Rajiv Sharma, stated in his order that “All the animals have honour and dignity. Every specie[s] has an inherent right to live and is required to be protected by law. The rights and privacy of animals are to be respected and protected from unlawful attacks. The Corporations, Hindu idols, holy scriptures, rivers have been declared legal entities, and thus, in order to protect and promote greater welfare of animals including avian and aquatic, animals are required to be conferred with the status of legal entity/legal person. The animals should be healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behaviour without pain, fear and distress. They are entitled to justice. The animals cannot be treated as objects or property.”[7]


The present case discussed the following issues:

  1. Whether the animal kingdom should be given the status of a “legal person”

  2. Whether animal protection is the need of the hour and a matter of urgency


In order to reach the ratio decidendi [8] in the particular case, various provisions of the existing laws and acts were interpreted and at the same time, preceded a noteworthy animal rights jurisprudence. This case gained more attention after the landmark case of Animal Welfare Board of India V. Nagaraja and Ors[9] which had erred in its findings wherein the Hon’ble court upheld the need for animal welfare laws and to recognise animal rights, however left the animal rights for interpretation subject to human necessity and thus expectations were much more this time around, which were rightly put in place by J. Rajiv Sharma. Various Legislations, Acts and jurisprudence which were used are discussed in brief below.

Domestic Laws

The State of Haryana has applied the Punjab Prohibition of Cow Slaughter Act 1955,[10] which stands amended time and again. This Act majorly prohibits cow-slaughter in the State. While the export of cow-meat as well as the slaughter of these species has been regulated by section 2(cc),2(e),3, 4B and 5 of the present Act.[11] Section 8(1) of the Prohibition of Cow Slaughter provides that whoever contravenes, attempts to contravene or abet the contravention of the provisions of Sections 3, 4A, 4B or 5 which deals with prohibition of cow slaughter, shall be guilty of an offence punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend upto five years and with a fine which may extend to five thousand rupees.[12]

The Parliament has enacted the Act called Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960[13] Section 13 defines cruelty to animals[14] and Section 35 provides for treatment and care of animals[15]. Rules 47 to 56 apply to the transport by rail of cows, bulls, bullocks, buffaloes, yaks and calves which has been emphasised in the case of Karnail Singh and others Vs. State of Haryana.[16] The Central Government has also enacted the Act called the Prevention and Control of Infectious and Contagious Diseases in Animals Act, 2009[17] to provide for the prevention, control and eradication of infectious and contagious diseases affecting animals, for the prevention of outbreak or spreading of such diseases from one State to another, and to meet the international obligations of India for facilitating import and export of animals and animal products and for matter connected therewith or incidental thereto.[18]

International legislations

UNEP Biodiversity Convention (1992) "Conscious of the intrinsic value of biological diversity and of the ecological, genetic, social, economic, educational, cultural, recreational and aesthetic values of biological diversity and its components ... [we have] agreed as follows: ...." The World Charter for Nature proclaims that "every form of life is unique, warranting respect regardless of its worth to man". The Charter uses the term "nature" rather than using the term "environment", with a view to shift to non-anthropocentric[19] human independent terminology."[20]

The Hon’ble Supreme Court accepted and applied the eco-centric principles in T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India[21], and in Centre for Environmental Law, World Wide Fund-India v. Union of India[22].


In this extraordinary judgement, the Court laid down a number of guidelines to be followed within Punjab and Haryana, some of which are as follows:

Specified maximum weight limit that draught animals can carry as a load while driving vehicles.

Specified load for animals to carry.

Specified route by which a vehicle is to be drawn involves an ascent for not less than one kilometre and the gradient is more than three meters in a distance of thirty meters, the weight shall be half of what is specified by this Court. It is also made clear by way of abundant precaution that the weight specified in the direction made hereinabove, shall be inclusively the weight of the vehicle.

Not more than four people excluding the driver and children below the age of 6 years will be allowed to ride the vehicle in the State of Haryana.

● The judgement specified the limitation of putting a harness on any draught animals.

Banning the use of sticks etc. that would hurt the animal.

Issue certificate of the unladen weight of the vehicle by municipality to avoid cruelty to animals.

Use of fluorescent reflectors to identify the animals at night.

Shelter to the animals to be provided by the municipal bodies.

Transporting animals as per Rule 56 of the Transport of Animals Rules, 1978[24] along with Rule 93 of the Haryana Motor Vehicles rules, 1993[25].

Appointment of veterinary officers.

Application of the Prevention and Control of Infectious and Contagious Disease in Animals Act, 2009.[26]

No animals shall be transported beyond the specified limit.

The ideal temperature for the transportation of animals.

Ideal health condition of the animal to be transported.

Limitation on the transportation of newborn animals.

Specifying the mode of transporting the animals.

Form societies for preventing cruelty towards animals.

● The owner shall bear the cost of transportation.

Treatment of stray cattle and animals.

Directing veterinary doctors to treat the animals brought by the citizens.

● The provision of food and water by locals.

Right of way given to the non- mechanical devices.

Limiting the use of animals for a maximum of nine hours in a day.

Enforce the provisions of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Aquarium and Fish Tank Animals Shop) Rules, 2017[27]; Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Dog Breeding and Marketing) Rules 2017[28]; and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Pet Shop) Rules, 2018[29], in letter and spirit.

● The entire animal kingdom is declared as comprising legal entities.


Basis for Court’s decision

This was not the first time when animal rights have been discussed in the Court. Justice Rajiv Sharma relied on the landmark judgement of Animal Welfare Board of India V. Nagaraja and Ors.[30] while delivering the present judgement. In the 2014 decision, court extended Article 21 of the Indian Constitution i.e. Right to Life to animals, entrusting them with the right to live with honour and dignity and preventing arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of rights to them. In the Supreme Court case of Narayan Dutt Bhatt V. Union of India and others in 2018, the judiciary extended these rights to include ‘personhood’ for animals.[31]

The case of Karnail Singh and others V. State of Haryana[32] also contained various legal principles and instances that indicated the application of personhood to things/beings beyond just humans such as to corporations, idols, holy scriptures and rivers.[33]

The framers of the Indian Constitution guaranteed that creatures are to be treated at the same standard as human beings in terms of dignity and respect. Consequently, they revered the key obligation of all citizens to have sympathy and compassion for living animals under Article 51 A. Under Article 48A, the state is required to defend flora and fauna of the nation.

Obligations of human species towards animals

"In Corpus Juris Secundum, it is stated "that the wild animals at large within its borders are owned by the State in its sovereign as distinguished from its proprietary capacity and neither such animals nor any part thereof are subject to private ownership except insofar as the State may choose to make them so."[34]

In American jurisprudence, there is a passage that states:"in the United States the ownership of wild animals and fish not reduced to actual possession by a private person is in the People of the State in their collective sovereign capacity, or in the State as representing all the people."[35]

Lacunas in the judgement of Karnail Singh and others Vs. State of Haryana[36]

The present revision petition widened the scope of animal jurisprudence and put up a judicial precedent for cases to come but didn’t define the ambit and extent of the same.

The judgement has raised a lot of public debate between non-vegetarians and vegans.

No clear status has been defined for pet animals or abandoned animals.

Punishment and penalties remain meagre and in no way act as proper deterrents against atrocities against animals.

The fact that the judgement regards human supremacy over species vitiates the whole point of the judgement.

The question of consuming legal persons” as edibles, the food chain and proper definition of animal cruelty remain in grey area and would need further guidelines to be defined better.

The present judicial determination raises various legal and administrative issues. Implementation of the rights of animals is more difficult than extension of the same to rivers etc.

International perspective

India has derived inspiration from various countries before giving the present verdict. In 2014, Romania introduced a bill which intended to grant personhood to dolphins and special protection to “non-human person”. It intended to ensure the right to life and bodily integrity in order to free animals from acts of cruelty. In the same year New Zealand enacted The Urewara Act[37] which enabled legal entities’ to be given to non- humans entities as well, such as National Parks in this country. Back in 2013 in the United States, an application by Non -Human Rights Project was filed for the protection and special status of a chimpanzee named “Tommy” and courts extended personhood to the animal kingdom as post that judgement. In 2010, Bolivia legislated the “Law of the Rights of Mother Earth” which include detailed rights vested in the environment, and protection from commercial exploitation and ecological degradation.[38]

Suggestions and Recommendations

Some of the suggestions and recommendations are given below:

Implementation of more stringent laws for animal protection by the government is the need of the hour

Conservation status must be given to a division of species.

Amount of fines and penalties must be revisited and increased to have a deterring-effect against animal rights violations in the society

NGOs like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) etc. must be encouraged and given more participation.

Regional organisations rescuing animals and giving them treatment must be subsidised by the government and given a place in the curriculum to inculcate sensitivity towards the animal kingdom.

Ambulances and planned rescue operations must be arranged for animals that enter urban areas so that they are returned to their habitat without being poached or attacked.


It was rightly quoted by Stone while referring to the animal kingdom as legal entities, “that legal personality plays an important part in making a thing count in the eyes of the law. The conferral of legal personality upon rightless objects or beings carries with it legal recognition that those objects or beings have “worth and dignity” in their own right. Until we attribute personality to a rightless entity, we are likely to be unable to conceive of it as “anything but a thing for the use of ‘us’ – those who are holding rights at the time.”[39]

After alluding to abundant cases, animal protection legislations around the globe and various ideas of many legal thinkers, the court concluded that we share this earth with animal creatures and there is a need to respect their space and rights as well. Not denying the way that we humans have arrogated to ourselves, the full control over our animal kingdom, the freedom and safety of animals rests in our grip - a fact that is inconsistent with the general purpose of this judgment.

The court also quoted, “The shelter of the legal umbrella would also provide more effective protection of animal interests than is available under current animal welfare law. As legal persons, animals could be recognized as parties to legal actions, because they would have the independent standing that they currently lack.”[40] The Haryana government has constituted Pashu Swasthaya Kalyan Samity (PSKS) recently as a result of this judgement.[41]

In conclusion, the 29 guidelines issued by the court for animal welfare have surely uplifted the status and value of life of “non-humans” in legal terms.


[1] Vol 19, HAGGETT, PETER, ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORLD GEOGRAPHY: THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT, 2648, (2002) [2] DUTT, MISRA & CHATTERJEE, EXPLORATIONS IN APPLIED GEOGRAPHY, 104-107, (2008) [3] 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 704 [4] Court on its own motion and Ors. v. Chandigarh Administration and Ors. (2020), MANU/PH/0269/2020 [5] Supra no. 4 [6] “Jallikattu is a traditional event in which a bull is released into a crowd of people, and multiple human participants attempt to grab the large hump on the bull's back with both arms and hang on to it while the bull attempts to escape. Participants hold the hump for as long as possible, attempting to bring the bull to a stop. In some cases, participants must ride long enough to remove flags on the bull's horns.As there were incidents of injury and death associated with the sport, both to the participants and to the animals forced into it, animal rights organizations have called for a ban to the sport, resulting in the court banning it several times over the past years. However, with protest from the people against the ban, a new ordinance was made in 2017 to continue the sport.” (Safi, Michael (23 January 2017). Tamil Nadu passes order to lift bull-taming ban after angry protests. The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077); [7] Karnail Singh and others Vs. State of Haryana, (2019) SCC OnLine P&H 704, ¶3, Pg. 2 [8] The rule of law on which a judicial decision is based. [9] 2014(4)ABR556, 2014(4)BomCR26 [10] The Punjab Prohibition of Cow Slaughter Act, 1955; (Last visited on Mar 3, 2020) [11] Ibid [12] Supra no. 13 [13] The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act, 1960; (Last visited on Mar 4 ,2020) [14] Karnail Singh and others Vs. State of Haryana, 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 704, ¶18-20 [15] Karnail Singh and others Vs. State of Haryana, 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 704, ¶21 [16] SCC OnLine P&H 704, ¶28, pt. no. 38 [17] The Prevention and Control of Infectious and Contagious Disease in Animals Act, 20th March, 2009; (Last visited on Mar 6, 2020) [18] Karnail Singh and others Vs. State of Haryana, 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 704, ¶57,95 [19] “Non-anthropocentric ethics recognises moral standing of natural objects such as animals, plants and landscapes. It grants an extension and revision of standard ethical principles” [20] CONVENTION ON BIODIVERSITY, UNEP 1992; (Last visited on Mar 2, 2020) [21] Writ Petition (C) No. 202 Of 1995 [22] Writ Petition (Civil) No. 337 Of 1995 [23] Karnail Singh and others Vs. State of Haryana, 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 704, ¶95 [24] MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT AND FORESTS NOTIFICATION, (22nd September, 2009); [25] The Haryana Motor Vehicles rules, 30th July1993; ( Last visited on Mar 6, 2020) [26] The Prevention and Control of Infectious and Contagious Disease in Animals Act, 20th March, 2009; (Last visited on Mar 6, 2020) [27] Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Aquarium and Fish Tank Animals Shop) Rules, 2017, 23rd May, 2017; (Last visited on Mar 6, 2020) [28] Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Dog Breeding and Marketing) Rules 2017, 29th July 2010; (Last visited on Mar 4, 2020) [29] The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Pet Shop) Rules, 6th September 2018; (Last visited on Mar 3, 2020) [30] 2014(4)ABR556, 2014(4)BomCR26, MANU/SC/0426/2014 [31] Writ Petition (PIL) No. 43 of 2014 [32] 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 704 [33] Animal Welfare Board of India V. Nagaraja and Ors.; 2014(4)ABR556, 2014(4)BomCR26, MANU/SC/0426/2014 [34] Vol. LXV, CORPUS JURIS SECUNDUM, , page 40; Karnail Singh and others Vs. State of Haryana, 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 704,¶13, Pg.5 [35] Vol II, AMERICAN JURISPRUDENCE, , page 694; Karnail Singh and others Vs. State of Haryana, 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 704,¶89, Pg.96 [36] CRR-533-2013 [37] Te Urewera Act 2014, visited on Mar 4, 2020) [38]Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, (2010); visited on Mar 4, 2020) [39] Karnail Singh and others Vs. State of Haryana, 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 704,¶87, Pg.95 [40] Karnail Singh and others Vs. State of Haryana, 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 704,¶90, Pg.104 [41] Notification No. 1400-AH-4-2019/5147 dated 08.05.19; (Last visited on Mar 3, 2020)



  1. Jeffrey A. McNeely, Senior Science Advisor at IUCN,1980;

  2. Stearns, Peter N., The Oxford Encyclopedia Of The Modern World, Volume 1, (2008) Pg.156.

  3. Haggett, Peter, Encyclopedia of World Geography: The Indian subcontinent, Volume 19, (2002), Pg. 2648.

  4. Dutt, Misra & Chatterjee, Explorations in Applied Geography, (2008), Pg. 104.

Articles/Journals/News articles:

  1. Michael Safi, ‘Ganges and Yamuna rivers granted same legal rights as human beings’ (The Guardian, 21 March 2017) (Last visited on March 3, 2020).

  2. Lauren Choplin, Chimpanzee recognized as legal person (Non Human Rights Blog, December 5, 2016) (Last visited on March 3, 2020).

  3. ‘Dolphins gain unprecedented protection in India’ (Deutsche Welle, 24 May 2013) (Last visited on March 3, 2020).

  4. Verlyn Klinkenborg, ‘Animal Personhood: Muddled Alternative to Real Protection’ (YaleEnvironment360, 30 January 2014) (Last visited on March 3, 2020.)

  5. Jessica Pierce, ‘Animals and Personhoos’ (Psychology Today, 17 December 2011) (Last visited on March 3, 2020).

  6. Christian M. Korsgaard, ‘Personhood, Animal and the Law’ (Harvard Edu) (Last visited on March 3, 2020).


  1. Te Urewera Act 2014, (Last visited on Mar 4, 2020)

  2. Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, 2010; visited on Mar 4, 2020)

  3. Convention on Bio Diversity, UNEP 1992; visited on Mar2, 2020)

bottom of page