SC gives govt a week to delete provision on confiscation of livestock

Finding that a rule that empowered the magistrate to confiscate livestock even before a conviction was received under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act (1960) ran contrary to the very law itself, the Supreme Court Monday gave the Centre a week to delete the provision or be prepared for a stay order on the rules.

The Centre introduced two rules in 2017 — the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Care and Maintenance of Case Property Animals) Rules and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Market) Rules — and notified them in May 2018. Delhi-based Buffalo Traders Welfare Association, which espouses the cause of cattle traders, farmers, butchers, and agriculturists, challenged the former rule in the apex court in May 2019.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde said, “Section 29 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA), 1960 is very clear. Only a person who is convicted can lose his animals. Either you amend your laws or else we will stay it. We cannot countenance rules which run contrary to the parent act.”

The bench, which also comprised Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian said, “People live on the strength of their animals. You cannot confiscate and keep the animals till they (accused) are convicted.”

Both rules were challenged in July 2017 by the All India Jamiatul Quresh Action Committee. At the time, the Centre informed the top court that the rules would be amended and re-notified. Thus the petition was disposed of and the Supreme Court directed the Centre to hear the stakeholders before re-notitying the amended rules.

However, the new petitioners said that they were not aware of any fresh notification.

In its petition, the association stated that certain groups, emboldened by the rules, took the law into their hands and looted livestock.

The petition filed by advocate Rajnish Kumar Jha stated, “Transporters, cattle traders and farmers are facing threats due to anti-social elements taking law in their own hands. This resulted in looting of the animals….These incidents are acting as triggers for communal polarisation of the society, and if not halted effectively and immediately, will have disastrous consequences on the social fabric of the country.”

There has been a rash of attacks on cattle traders by cow protection groups with right wing political affiliations for allegedly transporting livestock for the purposes of slaughter. It is illegal to slaughter cows across the country, and a handful of states have passed laws to protect different types of cattle from slaughter. In May 2017, the Centre imposed a ban on the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter at animal markets across India under PCA statutes but the Supreme Court suspended the ban shortly after giving relief to beef and leather industries.

The Court issued a notice on the petition and sought a response from the Centre in July 2019; in August 2020, it enquired whether the rule in question was notified.

On Monday, the petition came up for hearing again and Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Jayant Sud appearing for the Centre informed the court that the rules were notified in 2018.

The ASG said that he was prepared to share evidence of cruelty that had been meted out to the cattle seized under the rules.

Senior advocate Sanjay Hedge appearing for the petitioner pointed out that the newly notified rule empowered a magistrate to direct the confiscated animal to be housed in an infirmary, animal welfare organisation or gaushala (cow shed) during the pendency of the litigation. This was contrary to Section 29 of the 1960 act, he said.

Section 29 states, “If the owner of any animal is found guilty of any offence under this Act. the court upon his conviction thereof, may, if it thinks fit, in addition to any other punishment make an order that the animal with respect to which the offence was committed shall be forfeited to Government..”

However, Rule 3 of the 2017 rule in question empowered the Magistrate to direct the animal to be confiscated and housed at an infirmary, Animal Welfare Organization or Gaushala during the pendency of the litigation even before the person got convicted.

Sud sought a week’s time to file a response based on the Court’s observations. The matter will be taken up again on January 11.

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