Supreme Court Refuses To Give Custody Of Seized Cattle To Owner In Illegal Cattle Transportation Case
The Bench of Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice JK Maheshwari has clarified its Order dated March 4, 2022 in the case involving alleged illegal cattle transportation in Assam, stating that the question of whether the petitioner-Meher Banu Begum, the owner of the cattle, is entitled to custody of the said cattle would be decided based upon the decision in the trial.
"Learned counsel appearing for the petitioner-Meher Banu Begum has stated before us that she is ready and willing to execute the necessary bond in terms of Rule 5 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Care and Maintenance of case property animals) Rules, 2017. Taking the statement on record, the trial court would proceed accordingly. The question whether the petitioner-Meher Banu Begum is entitled to custody of the said cattle would be decided based upon the decision in the trial. The trial will be expedited and should be concluded as soon as possible.", the Court held.
The interlocutory application for clarification was filed seeking clarification of the order of the Court in March, 2022 dismissing an SLP filed by the owner of the cattle against the order of the Gauhati High Court which had upheld the order of the trial court granting custody of the cattle to an NGO instead of the owner.
However, while dismissing the case, the Apex Court had said, "On complying with the requisites as specified in the judgment and order impugned, the cattle shall be made over to the petitioner." It was seeking clarification of this part of the order that the IA was filed.
In this case, police had seized a number of cattle that were alleged to be illegally transported. Police had arrested several accused persons, who were carrying the cattle in the trucks from one State to another for slaughtering purposes and the police were trying to find out the kingpin of the illegal cattle business.
One Meher Banu Begum made several petitions before the Trial Court praying for custody or zimma of various seized cattle, claiming to be the owner of the said animals, contending inter alia that she had necessary challan for purchasing the cattle and fitness certificate given by the concerned veterinary officials.
The prayer for zimma of seized cattle in all the petitions was rejected by the Trial Court and the Court gave the zimma of seized cattle to the NGO, Dhyan Foundation, with a direction to the petitioner/the owner of the seized cattle to bear the cost of the cattle and to execute a bond in this regard.
However as the petitioner did not execute the bond as directed, the Trial Court directed the forfeiture of the seized cattle on the basis of the report of the IO that the petitioner has not executed any bond.
A Revision Petition was filed before the Gauhati High Court.
The High Court observed that the petitioner claimed to be the owner of seized cattle on the strength of documents like permission, some receipts issued by market situated at Dinajpur, West Bengal and medical certificates.
The Court noted that the cattle were purchased on December 12, 2020, from West Bengal, medical certificate was issued on December 25, 2020 after reaching Assam. The Court observed that the medical certificate was not issued at the time of transportation but at a subsequent time.
While noting Rule 56 of the Transport of Animal Rules, 1978, the Court noted that the Rule specifically provided that a vehicle cannot carry more than 6 cattle. The Court noted that in the present case a large number of cattle were carried in a single vehicle.
The Court held that by only asserting the ownership by a person one cannot seek for zimma of animals that has been transported in blatant violation of Rules and the Act.
The Court noted that on the basis of the direction passed by the Court in 2010, the petitioner was allowed to restart the business of Inter-State transportation of cattle business with strict adherence to Transport of Animals Rules, 1978 and Transport of Animals (Amendment) Rules, 2009 however the Court noted that the petitioner had totally failed to adhere to the aforesaid provisions and rules.
The High Court dismissed the revision petition while holding that the Trial Court rightly appreciated the matter in the proper perspective of law while rejecting the prayer of the petitioner for custody and giving same to the third party with a direction to the petitioner to bear the cost.
Cause Title- Meher Banu Begum v. The State Of Assam & Anr.