Traditionally, India has been an agricultural country with a vast population engaged in agriculture. Thus, the issue of cattle trespass is a common occurrence. The Government of India enacted the Cattle Trespass Act 1871.
Before the enactment of the Cattle Trespass Act, the laws relating to cattle trespass were scattered and leading to severe confusion when dealing with the issue. To consolidate all laws and regulations relating to cattle trespass, the Union Parliament enacted the Cattle Trespass Act in 1871.
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Cattle Trespass Act
The definition of ‘cattle’ under the Act is very broad and includes elephants, horses, mules, ponies, kids, pigs, sheep, and goats. The Act aims to provide safeguards against cattle destruction of crops and property and also provides a remedy to the aggrieved persons to capture and deliver trespassing cattle to the pound keepers.
Establishment of Pounds
Chapter II of the Act stipulates the establishment of pounds for watering and feeding the cattle. These pounds are to be established by the District Magistrates and controlled by the State Governments.
The District Magistrate would determine the rates charged by the people using the pound to feed and water their cattle.
The State government is empowered to appoint a pound-keeper for the maintenance of the pounds. The pound keepers are mandated to record the animals watered and fed through the pounds and have to maintain a register and record the following:
- Description of animals watered in the pounds
- The address of owner of the cattle
- The period at which the cattle were brought to the pound.
Trespass by Animals
If the animals trespass into the land of any person and destroy the crops or produce, then the occupier of the land or the cultivator or any person who is monetarily associated with the produce can seize the animals and send them to the pound established by the State governments.
Similarly, if any cattle is found to be damaging roads, canals, plantations, embankments, or other such utilities, then the persons in charge of these utilities can seize the animals. An animal has to be sent to the nearest pound within 24 hours of seizing the animal.
Article 26 deals with the damage to crops, specifically by pigs. If the crops or produce are damaged due to trespass by pigs and the owners of the pigs are found to have acted negligently, then the owners are liable to be punished with a fine.
Claim of the Impounding Cattle
The pound keepers are entitled to impose a fine on owners for impounding cattle. If the owner of the impounding cattle approaches the pound keeper to claim the cattle, then the pound keeper will release the cattle after the farmer pays the fine.
When no one shows up to claim the seized cattle after a week from the date of seizure, then the pound keeper will inform the Magistrate, who will declare a proclamation about the cattle in the village and the market near the place of seizure.
The proclamation would include the description of the cattle, place where the cattle was impounded, and the address of the pound where it was detained. If the cattle is not claimed within one week from the proclamation date, then the Magistrate will organise an auction for the cattle.
The cattle would also be sold by public auction where the owner shows to claim the cattle from the pound keeper but refuses to pay the fine levied in respect of the impounding cattle.
Allocation of Proceeds
In case the cattle is sold by public auction, the proceeds from such sale have to be transmitted to the cattle owner. However, the amount of fines levied in respect of the cattle and the costs incurred in feeding and selling the cattle is dedicated to the net proceeds before the proceeds are transferred to the cattle owner.
Notably, pound keepers and police officers are barred from purchasing cattle through public auction.
Complaints by Cattle Owners
Any person aggrieved by the detention of their cattle under the provisions of this Act is entitled to register his complaint with the District Magistrate within ten days from the detention. The complaint may be made in a verbal format or in a written format.
After the complaint is made, the Magistrate will make an enquiry into the complaint, provided that the Magistrate finds the complaint to be well-founded and not frivolous. If, after the inquiry, the Magistrate finds that the cattle was wrongfully or illegally detained, then the Magistrate will compensate the complainant.
The compensation would also include any expenses incurred by the complainant in securing the release of the cattle. This compensation amount has to be paid by the person wrongfully detaining or seizing the cattle.
In the case of Ram Ratan v. State of Bihar (1965), the Court held that a seizure cannot be regarded as illegal if it did not result in any wrongful loss to the cattle owner. The Court further observes that the Act does not make illegal seizure or detention an offence under the Penal Code.
Any person who opposes or obstructs a legitimate seizure under the Act or rescues a detained cattle from the pound keeper is liable to punishment under the Act. Section 24 of the Act provides that such persons can be punished with up to 6 months of imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs. 500.
A challenge to successfully enforcing the Act is the lack of awareness among the people. Several people need to be made aware of the pounds established by the State Governments and are thus unable to derive the benefit from them. Estimating the damage caused by the cattle and identifying the cattle causing the damage is difficult.
Moreover, the Act obligates the cultivator or producer to seize the cattle, damaging the crops. Seizing the cattle is not possible for normal cultivators, particularly in the case of dangerous animals. Moreover, the cultivators are also required to carry and hand over the seized cattle to the custody of the pound keeper. In many cases, the cultivators are unwilling to take the effort.
The Act is only applicable in some areas. For example, the Bombay Village Panchayats Act 1959 has superseded the provisions of the Act. Under this Act, the duty to maintain cattle pounds has now been imposed on village panchayats. Thus, the Cattle Trespass Act operation has ceased in all areas for which village panchayats have been set up under the Bombay Village Panchayats Act 1959.
The primary objective of the act is safeguarding crops, produce, and public utilities from potential harm caused by cattle. The Act places an obligation on cattle owners to act responsibly and initiate necessary precautions to prevent their cattle from causing damage to crops or produce.
The comprehensive framework of the Cattle Trespass Act is designed to mitigate nuisances and damages arising from cattle-related issues. Moreover, cattle owners are held accountable for any destruction caused by their cattle. The Act is a valuable asset for the agricultural sector, ensuring protection against cattle-related crop damage.
FAQs on Cattle Trespass Act
When was the first Cattle Trespass Act enacted?
The first Cattle Trespass Act was enacted in 1857. The objective was to protect crops, roads, and embankments from damage by cattle.
Can private citizens set up a private cattle pound?
In the case of Gram Panchayat Sawargaon v. Jamnaprasad Raghunath Prasad (1967), the Bombay High Court observed that private individuals cannot be allowed to set up cattle pounds. The Cattle Trespass Act imposes a statutory duty on the District Magistrates to set up the cattle pounds, and such statutory duty on a public officer bars private individuals from setting up cattle pounds.
Who has the power to establish pounds under the Act?
The State Government establishes pounds. The State Government may also decide to eliminate an existing pound.
What is the doctrine of scienter?
The doctrine of scienter pertains to the owner's responsibility for any harm inflicted by their animal. This responsibility arises when the owner's animals possess inherent danger or when the owner is aware of their potential to cause harm. In essence, if an animal displays a dangerous tendency and its caretaker is aware of this, the caretaker is held accountable for any resulting harm or injury caused by the animal.
Who are prohibited from participating in the cattle auction organised under the Act?
The pound keepers are prohibited from purchasing the cattle at the auctions conducted under this Act. This ensures that the pound keepers do not serve their vested interests by organising illegitimate and arbitrary auctions.