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The Right to Dissect

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Why Delhi’s zoology professors want dissection allowed for students

It has been a while since animal dissections by students in college laboratories were discontinued. But Delhi University’s (DU) zoology department is still rooting for it. It has asked the University Grants Commission (UGC) to reconsider the ban or implement it over a period of five years.

“The guidelines are not clear and we are facing a problem over how to conduct practical tests,” says Dr AK Singh, Head of the Department of Zoology. According to Singh, implementing the current rules could add an expenditure of Rs 20 lakh. “We have asked for financial assistance in developing in-house breeding labs. Teachers cannot rely only on computer-generated models and field trips,” he says.

The UGC had issued a set of guidelines last November recommending a switchover to field visits and digital alternatives, which had to be implemented immediately. While medical colleges registered under the Medical Council of India are not affected by these rules, undergraduate courses run by colleges under the UGC are worst affected. According to the new rules, undergraduate students cannot dissect any animal species and can only watch their teacher dissect one species, while postgraduate students will be allowed to dissect only two species.

The new rules adhere to the norms of the Wildlife Protection Act and  a case was registered against Acharya Narendra Dev College in Delhi last year after a raid conducted by parliamentarian and animal rights activist Menaka Gandhi.

The recommendations, supported by animal rights organisations like Peta, underline the need to curb biodiversity loss due to dissection. Activists supporting the recommendation add that the conditions of breeding labs in universities are abysmal. While several colleges in Rajasthan have already discontinued the practice and Mumbai University is looking at alternatives, Delhi’s teachers claim that instead of a blanket ban, the UGC should consider what animals can be used.

“Frogs are endangered species, so that is okay. But what about rats and mice that are more of an ecological nuisance?” asks a zoology professor.

“Cockroaches do not have pain receptors, so the issue of cruelty can be debated over that.”