The Supreme Court on Monday said that a provision in the 2017 rule notified by the Centre, allowing the confiscation of the animals of traders and transporters during the pendency of trials in cases under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, is contrary to the latter’s provisions which allow such confiscation only in case of conviction. It asked the government to either change the rule or face a stay from the court.
“Animals are a source of livelihood. We are not talking about pet dogs and cats. People live on the basis of their animals. You can’t confiscate them and keep them before the man is convicted. Your rules are contrary. You either change it or we will stay it,” Chief Justice S A Bobde observed while hearing a plea by the Buffalo Traders Welfare Association challenging the constitutional validity of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Care and Maintenance of Case Property Animals) Rules, 2017 and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017.
The 2017 rules allow a magistrate to forfeit the cattle of an owner facing trial under the Act and send them to infirmaries, gaushalas etc.
The bench, also comprising Justices S Balasubramanian and A S Bopanna, pointed out that Section 29 of the Act says that a person tried for an offence under the Act can be deprived of the ownership of the animal only upon conviction.
Section 29, which deals with the “power of court to deprive person convicted of ownership of animal”, in clause (1) says that “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 and may, further, make such order as to the disposal of the animal as it thinks fit under the circumstances”.
Appearing for the Centre, Additional Solicitor General Jayant K Sud informed the court that the 2017 rules had been notified as it had come to light that atrocities were being committed on animals.
But the bench said, “We are trying to tell you that the section is very clear — that only the person who is convicted can lose the animal. You either amend the rule or we will stay it. We cannot have a situation where the rule is running contrary to the express provision of the Act.”
The court gave the Centre one week’s time to file a reply and posted the matter for hearing again on January 11.
The petitioners contended that the Rules were being used to forcibly deprive even legitimate owners of their cattle and that it had emboldened “anti-social elements” to take matters into their own hands and loot cattle traders.
Such incidents act as “triggers for communal polarisation of society”, the association said.