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Mumbai's iconic horse-driven carriages, famed as 'Victorias', are all set to pass into the pages of history as the Maharashtra government gears up to rehabilitate the carriage owners and operators. The decorated and lit-up carriages with the rhythmic trots of the horses which pull them had been a familiar sight on the roads of south Mumbai since colonial times, as visitors and locals queued up for joyrides in them. The Bombay High Court order in 2015 had signalled the end of the road for these carriages when it ruled that their operation amounted to cruelty to animals, thus leaving scores of families who eked a living out of them in the lurch. As part of the rehabilitation plan approved by the state cabinet yesterday, the government will offer those affected by the ban with hawking licenses with Rs one lakh as seed funding or Rs three lakh as one-time settlement, an official said here. The cabinet decision will affect 91 Victoria owners and 130 drivers, he said. However, carriage owners claimed that around 800 families were directly and indirectly dependent on the carriage business for employment. The High Court had also slammed the state government in February this year 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 work out the rehabilitation package. Animal rights NGO PETA, quoting the information from the office of Mumbai's joint commissioner of police (traffic), said the licences issued for 130 horse-drawn carriages in 2011 and 2012 had expired by 2013. But with no other way to make the ends meet, some of the coachmen continued to take the carriages out for rides. It said since July 2016, nine ailing horses have been seized by the Mumbai police and Animal Welfare Board of India's authorised inspectors. The NGO has often pointed out that the horses pulling these carriages are mostly malnourished and suffer from severe dehydration, painful arthritis, cracked hooves and multiple wounds. Many of them do not have shoes, which causes their soles to be worn down, resulting in painful foot conditions such as inflammation of the sensitive membrane inside the hooves, it said. But the families hit by the ban have their own tormenting tales to narrate. A coachman said several generations of his family had been in the carriage business since the days of the British rule and that he owns six horses, which are now being used for wedding processions. The cash-strapped family, living in suburban Vikhroli, said they still look after the horses like their own children. In June 2015, the Bombay High Court had directed the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to put a complete stop on Victorias within a year as they were "illegal and violative of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act." The court had then directed the Maharashtra government to frame a comprehensive policy to rehabilitate those (carriage owners and drivers) affected by the ban and also the horses. The direction was given following a public interest litigation filed by city-based NGO Animals and Birds Charitable Trust alleging maltreatment of horses by using them for joyrides.