SC asks govt. to repeal law which confiscates cattle before owner is found guilty of cruelty

‘Your Rules are plainly contrary to Section 29 of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, under which only a person convicted of cruelty can lose his animal,’ says CJI Sharad A. Bobde

January 04, 2021 01:40 pm | Updated 01:42 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

VMC staff seizing stray cows in Vijayawada on Wednesday.

VMC staff seizing stray cows in Vijayawada on Wednesday.

The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre to “delete” its three-year-old law which allowed seizure and subsequent confiscation in ‘gaushalas’ of livestock from people, who depended on these animals for a livelihood, even before they were found guilty of cruelty towards them.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde warned the government that it would “stay” the implementation of a 2017 law which allowed authorities to seize cattle on a mere suspicion that they suffered cruel treatment at the hands of their owners or were being primed for slaughter.

These animals, the law prescribes, would then be lodged in ‘gaushalas’ as “case property” to await the court’s verdict. In short, a farmer, a livestock owner or a cattle trader loses his animals before being found guilty of the charge of cruelty.

“Understand one thing here... These animals, and I am not talking about pet dogs and cats, are a source of livelihood. You cannot just seize and keep them confiscated like that... Your Rules are plainly contrary to Section 29 of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, under which only a person convicted of cruelty can lose his animal. You either delete this (Rules) or we will stay it,” Chief Justice Bobde addressed Additional Solicitor General Jayant K. Sud, for the Centre.

Mr. Sud submitted that the Rules had already been notified.

“There is evidence on record to show that actual cruelty is being done against animals,” the law officer said. He then sought time to file a response.

The court scheduled the next hearing for Monday.

The law under question is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Care and Maintenance of Case Property Animals) Rules, 2017 notified on May 23, 2017. The rules were framed under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

The 2017 Rules allow a Magistrate to forfeit the cattle of an owner facing trial under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The animals are then sent to infirmaries, ‘gaushalas’, ‘pinjarapole’, etc. These authorities can further give such animals for “adoption”.

‘Used as a tool’

The Buffalo Traders Welfare Association, represented by advocate Sanobar Ali Qureshi, said the Rules were being used as a tool to seize and forfeit their cattle.

The association said the law’s existence had emboldened “anti-social elements” to take matters into their own hands and loot cattle traders. It had become a cause for polarisation in society.

“It is pertinent to mention that these frequent lootings are also threatening the rule of law and generally emboldening groups of persons to take the law into their own hands. Moreover, these incidents are acting as triggers for communal polarisation of society, and if not halted effectively and immediately will have disastrous consequences on the social fabric of the country,” the association said.

The association said the 2017 Rules had travelled beyond the boundaries of the 1960 Act.

The petition said the government reneged on its assurance to amend the Rules.

“It is pertinent to note that when The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animal (Regulation Of Live Stocks, Markets) Rules, 2017 and The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Care Maintenance of Case Property Animals) Rules, 2017 were first challenged before the Supreme Court, the Union of India had made a statement that the government was in the process of reconsidering the rules and amended rules would be re-notified. The matter was thus disposed of by the Supreme Court... Thereafter, there has been no notification of any amended rules,” the petition said.

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