Published on: October 17, 2022 at 20:24 IST
A Supreme Court Division Bench granted custody of seized livestock to a gaushala (cow sanctuary) engaged in animal care and welfare rather than the alleged owners who were illegally transporting the cattle.
This custody dispute has a long and tumultuous procedural history dating back to February 2019, when a truck was discovered transporting fifteen bullocks and three buffaloes without the necessary permits and a FIR was lodged against the truck’s owners and driver under the relevant provisions of, among other things, the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act 1995, Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, and the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.
During the trial, a Judicial Magistrate First Class granted the gaushala’s application for interim custody of the cattle under the proviso to Section 8(3) of the Maharashtra Act, but this order was overturned by the Sessions Judge, who noted that the owners had a “preferential right” to get interim custody.
The Sessions Judge’s order was challenged in a writ petition filed at the Bombay High Court.
However, the High Court’s Aurangabad Bench affirmed the impugned ruling and dismissed the petition.
The case was eventually appealed to the Supreme Court.
The legislature’s goal in including the proviso to Section 8(3) of the Maharashtra Act, the supreme court remarked, was “to give effect to the Maharashtra Act’s mission of preserving and protecting cows, bulls, and bullocks suitable for milch, breeding, draught, or agricultural purposes.”
The relevant component of the law calls for the seized livestock to be turned over to the nearest animal protection organisation ready to take such custody.
Given the prima facie finding that the private respondents violated the Transport of Animal Rules, 1978, the Court decided that it was the High Court’s responsibility to guarantee that the seized cattle were properly conserved and kept until the conclusion of the trial processes.
As a result, interim possession was given to the appellant organisation, which had shown a willingness to keep the seized livestock.
The Court decided –
“The appellant has shown its willingness to accept the interim custody of the cattle. In view of the fact that private respondents were prima facie carrying the cattle in cruel conditions without a valid permit, the Judicial Magistrate First Class rightly concluded that the cattle would be safe in the custody of the appellant instead of the private respondents.”
“In view of the above findings, the ultimate direction which was issued by the High Court was contrary to the proviso to Section 8(3) of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976 and would have to be set aside, while restoring the order of the Judicial Magistrate.”
Noting that the trial was still ongoing and that two of the eighteen cattle had died, the Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Hima Kohli also held that trials for offences under the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976, must be “concluded expeditiously” and that the courts involved must “take all necessary steps” to complete the trial within six months.
This was done to ensure that the cattle did not outlive their “commercial utility” while being held.
The Court cited its ruling in Jagatguru Sant Tukaram Goshala vs. Maharashtra [Criminal Appeal No. 132/2022]. In this instance, the Judicial Magistrate was ordered to make a ruling within three months because “a significant period had already passed.”
Senior Advocate Manish Singhvi and Advocate Ayush Anand represented the appellant, while Advocate Sachin Patil represented the private respondents.