Victorias to become history soon

Horse-drawn carriages lose battle in court

Victorias to become history soon
Buggy owners reject allegations of cruelty to animals

Mumbai’s iconic horse-drawn Victoria carriages or buggies – which have been part of the heritage of this metropolitan city – would soon be a history. Right from the Bombay during the British Raj to Independence to the 21st century hustle-bustle Mumbai, these ornate silver carriages have seen the city growing and expanding. But, because of a ban order of Bombay High Court, the Victorias would have to go from the city. As of now, they are being used for joyrides and not for transport.

Mumbaikars and domestic and foreign tourists’ alike take pride in riding them at two iconic landmarks of Mumbai – the Gateway of India and Taj Mahal Palace and the Marine Drive of Queen’s Necklace aka Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Marg.

“Victorias reflect the speed of life,” says Rafique Baghdadi, a veteran journalist, writer, film critic and expert on Mumbai. “It was unique to Mumbai,” adds Ajit Joshi, a veteran journalist and writer, very familiar with issues of downtown Mumbai.

As a matter of fact, several films of Bollywood, including Victoria No 203 and its remake, had depicted these horse-drawn carriages. The older Victoria No 203 features Saira Banu and Navin Nischol in “ekha maine dekha” song sequence.

And, also the super-hit Dev Anand-starrer and Guru Dutt-produced CID, which has a famous song “aye dil hai mushkil jeena yahan, zara hat ke zara bach ke, yeh hai Bombay meri jaan…..” sung by Mohammed Rafi and Geeta Dutt capturing the essence of Mumbai life.

Besides in Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Amar Akbar Anthony has shown a horse carriage ride on Juhu beach with the Big B paired opposite the late Parveen Babi. In a recent film, Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherjee are seen in the title song of Hum Tum as the horse carriage moves from the Horniman Circle.

On June 8, the division bench of Justice A S Oka and Justice A S Menon, announced the ban on the ground that it was violative of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. “We hold that the use of  horse-driven carriages/Victorias in the city of Mumbai for joyrides is completely illegal…. All the authorities of the state shall ensure that use of such horse-driven carriages and/or Victorias in the city of Mumbai shall be completely stopped on expiry of a period of one year from today,” the bench said while deciding on the petitions of Animals and Birds Charitable Trust and others and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

The judges had asked the Maharashtra government to come out with a rehabilitation plan for those involved in running these horses and asked the Mumbai civic body to ensure that the ban is enforced. “There are around 700 persons who would be directly or indirectly affected because of the ban,” said lawyer Rajiv Singh, who represented a body called – Ashwa-Shakti – which is an association of the horse owners, stable owners and atten­dants. There are chances that the association would go to the Supreme Court challenging the ban. However, it has not taken a final call yet.

“We are in a situation that we cannot think of taking up any other job. The same is the case with the people who are engaged as attendants. We only tend animals and take people around on our carria­ges,” says Salman Khan, who takes tourists for south Mumbai ride from Gateway of India.

Khan, who resides in Mumbai suburbs, said: “One of the reasons that was raised was cruelty against animals. This is totally false. We treat them very well. After all, our bread and butter depends on them. So why would we treat them badly. They are like our family members and we are dependent on them.” He said that as of now 30 to 50 carriages
operate daily at Gateway of India and Marine Drive and a ride for four passengers costs Rs 150 for a small trip and Rs 300 for a longer trip.

“Daily we earn somewhere between Rs 2,000 and Rs 4,000 while an attendant gets
Rs 300 to 400,” he said. Running these horse carriages are limited to Gateway of India and its neighbouring areas and Marine Drive – the tabelas or stables are located on Grant Road, near Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus area and Dadar. 

“Two big seths are from Nariman Point and they own tabelas near Pila House,” an attendant said. The age group of the people in this trade ranges from 20 to 60 years.
Interestingly, celebrities like Mahesh Bhatt, Pooja Bhatt, Arunoday Singh, Munish Makhija, Dino Morea, Sunny Leone, Arunoday Singh, Arko Pravo Mukherjee, Zeenat Aman, Hema Malini, John Abraham, Jacqueline Fernandez, Sandip Soparrkar and Jesse Randhawa are among those who have appealed to the authorities to ban Victorias.

“Forcing horses to pull open carriages through congested traffic on hot streets is not only cruel but also dangerous – for the horses, carriage occupants and passers-by,” PETA India Director of Veterinary Affairs Manilal Valliyate, had said in the petition. Valliyate and other equine specialists pointed out that forcing horses to spend their entire lives on pavement – when they are meant to walk on grass – is inherently cruel.

Valliyate explained that once horses lose function in a joint, as it quickly happens when they’re made to walk on pavement or haul heavy loads, more stress will be placed on the other joints, tendons and ligaments. As a result, the healthy parts of their legs are subjected to wear and tear, eventually leading to inflammation of all the joints, tendons and ligaments. He also explained that no veterinary medicine or surgery can cure this condition and that it cannot be reversed.

In the order, the court has said: “….the entire controversy will have to be considered in the light the principles laid down by the Supreme Court  in its decision in the case of Animal Welfare Board of India as regards the rights of the animals in the context of Article 21 of the Constitution of India and the fundamental duties of the citizens.”

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