Mumbai: It is over a year since Mumbai’s iconic horse-driven carriages, famed as Victorias, have been banned by the Bombay High Court, holding their operation as cruelty to animals. But scores of families who used to make a living out of the buggies are yet to be rehabilitated, despite reminders to the government by the court. The decorated Victoria carriages, with the rhythmic trots of the horses that pull them, were a familiar sight on the roads of South Mumbai for the last few centuries.
In June 2015, the High Court directed the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to put a complete stop on them within a year, while holding that they violated rules under Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The court also directed the state government to work out a policy to rehabilitate the carriage owners and coachmen affected by the ban and also the horses.
The order was given on a PIL by city-based NGO Animals and Birds Charitable Trust, contending that the joyride caused cruelty to horses. About a month back, the High Court slammed the government over the slow pace of rehabilitation of the affected people and directed it to speed up its efforts.
The government then sought some more time to frame the rehabilitation policy. It said the committee set up for the purpose had so far identified 221 people as affected by the ban.
Taking a generous approach, the high court last week said the government could consider framing a new policy or rules to permit plying of horse carriages for joyrides with proper care of the horses.
“We are taking a slight departure from the High Court’s judgement. You (government and city civic body) need not stop it (horse carriages) altogether. It can be still used as joyrides for entertainment purposes and for tourist attraction,” the court said. “But then the authorities will have to carry out regular inspection to see that the horses are taken care of, are well fed and given adequate rest,” the HC said.
With no other way to make both the ends meet, some of the coachmen still take the Victoria carriages out for ride, taking the risk of running into law-enforcers. As per the information obtained by animal rights NGO PETA from the office of Mumbai’s joint commissioner of police (traffic), the licences issued for the 130 horse-drawn carriages in 2011 and 2012 had expired by 2013.
“Not only the plying of the Victoria buggies runs the risk of contempt of court but it also involves violation of The Bombay Public Conveyances Act, 1920, and the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, besides endangering the health and safety of horses and the general public,” PETA India’s director of veterinary affairs Dr Manilal Valliyat said.
But the families hit by the ban have their own woes to narrate.
“It was like exploding a bomb on our head. We have lost our means to earn a living,” said coachman Ganpat Mokal.