Hens should be able to "move around comfortably" in cages, the Delhi High Court has said, suggesting that they be kept in cages which are bigger than the small wired ones being used currently.
The observation came from a bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice V K Rao which directed the Secretary of Environment Ministry to set up, and chair, a committee to lay down guidelines on the breeding and transportation of poultry birds.
The court said the committee should consider the Law Commission's recommendations on the issue, the suggestions of other states and the views of the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) as also other stakeholders including poultry farmers, and submit a report before the next date of hearing on February 5, 2019.
"Till a decision is taken, no further battery (small wired) cages would be permitted to be used," the court said and added, "use big cages where they can moved around comfortably. They should be able to move around freely."
The bench also observed that presently none of the hen cages meet the size requirements laid down under the law for animal welfare.
The court was hearing a batch of PILs which claim that keeping egg-laying hens in small wired cages amounts to "extreme cruelty".
The petitions, moved by NGOs Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) and the People for Animals, were transferred from Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh to Delhi by the Supreme Court.
The NGOs have contended in their pleas that under the battery caging system, egg-laying hens are confined to space equivalent to an A-4 size paper sheet.
They told the court such cages are still the common method of housing chickens, despite the AWBI suggesting states to phase them out.
They have also claimed before the bench that poultry farmers cut of portions of the female chicks' beaks and they are kept in cramped and dirty cages.
According to the NGOs as well as the AWBI, egg-laying hens need much more space than the confined area provided by small cages which are stacked one on top of another. They have alleged that there was hardly any space for movement of the birds in these cages.
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