The anti-rabies scheme has faltered in India, with the number of stray dogs growing and an estimated 20,000 deaths per year due to rabies.
According to estimates, there are over three crore stray dogs ruling the roost on Indian streets. In Delhi, this number is about five lakh and about 300 dog bite cases are reported every day. Though rabies can be transmitted through cat bites too, the bite of a rabid dog accounts for 95-96% of rabies cases, according to the National Rabies Control Programme (NRCP).
The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment and Forest, is struggling to rope in animal welfare NGOs to implement the NRCP through dog steriliasation and proper medical care. However, it has not been able to put a check on the growing rabies cases.
Though rabies has become a big menace all over the country, there is no integrated programme to tackle it. Only last year, the Health Ministry approved the implementation of a pilot project in Haryana for mass sterilisation and vaccination of street dogs, in association with the AWBI and NGOs like World Wide Veterinary Service, Humane Society International and Friendicos.
The increasing number of stray dogs is not only resulting in rabies cases, but also affecting society at large. A seven-year-old boy was recently killed as a pack of stray dogs bit him in Delhi’s Okhla area. The boy accidentally fell on one of them while playing at a graveyard near his house.
Kunal Sharma, a resident of Indirapuram, said: “Stray dogs have become a big issue in Delhi and NCR. They stop people from going for walks. People commuting in night often become their target. One of my friends got injured as he was attacked by stray dogs while returning home at night on his two-wheeler and lost his balance.”
“India has not woken up to the menace yet and it has become a big challenge. There is no national level programme to tackle it. The NRCP is only limited to Haryana. There is a need to do it nationally,” said R.M. Kharb, chairman of the AWBI. Kharb also said that it should be declared a notifiable disease as it is affecting such a large number of people.
Kharb said that the civic bodies have so far not effectively implemented the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001 for sterlising and vaccinating dogs. “Our garbage management is also very dismal. There is a lot for the dogs to eat on the streets. As a result, they not only grow manifold numerically, but become quite strong and aggressive,” he said.
Experts say that a rabies-free country can be achieved by proper planning and effective implementation. Sikkim has led by example, followed by Chennai, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Ooty and also Mumbai, where there is considerable check on the stray dog population and the number of rabies cases. Sikkim, in fact, would soon be declared a “rabies-free state”. Neighbouring countries like Bhutan and Bangladesh have also done quite well in making their territories rabies-free.
An animal activist said the cost of sterlisation given by the Centre — Rs 445 — is too low; as a result, NGOs do not show much interest in the sterlisation drive. This amount was fixed about 10 years ago, but has not been revised. The annual budget for it is only Rs 3.5 crore. AWBI now wants the Animal Husbandry department to be made part of the scheme to make it a success.
In April, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the Delhi government and civic agencies in a PIL seeking implementation of the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, to control the stray dog population in the city. The PIL filed by NGO Nyayabhoomi states that RTI replies received from 16 out of 50 city hospitals sais that over 25,644 persons were treated for dog bites between October-December 2013 and 54,900 follow up of dig bites during the same period. This indicated that over 300 dog bite cases were reported every day, the petition said.