On 23rd May, 2017 Environment Ministry banned the sale and purchase of cattle from animal markets for slaughter to ensure their welfare and also to prevent smuggling by issuing a notice under Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017, which turned out to be a controversial issue. According to Ministry, these rules are result of two Supreme Court orders from the years 2015 & 2016 wherein Supreme Court had asked the government to draft rules for welfare of the animals by preventing them from being smuggled out of India to Nepal for Gadhimai festival where numerous sacrifices take place. As a result, the rules impose various sanctions on the slaughter market, farmers, export market and certain religious minorities.
Details of The New Guidelines
The notification entails detailed rules which defend animal rights and prevent illegal smuggling.
Now, the word ‘cattle’ includes not only the primary cow and calves but also buffaloes, heifers, camels, bullocks, bulls and steers.
The new guidelines tend to alter the definition of ‘animal market’. According to the notification, animal market means, “a market place or sale-yard or any other premises or place to which animals are brought from other places and exposed for sale or auction and includes any lair age adjoining a market or a slaughterhouse and used in connection with it and any place adjoining a market used as a parking area by visitors to the market for parking vehicles and includes animal fair and cattle pound where animals are offered or displayed for sale or auction”
Furthermore, the seller and purchaser will now have to give an undertaking that the cattle sold is not for slaughter and won’t be sold for atleast six months from the purchase date. A documentary proof that the purchaser is an agriculturist is also mandatory. Further, a seller cannot sell cattle outside the state without permission under State cattle protection laws. Both seller and buyer will have to produce identity and farmland ownership documents. The transaction involves loads of paperwork and documentation. – After buying a cow, a trader must make five copies of proof of sale and submit them at the local revenue office, the local veterinary doctor in the district of the purchaser, animal market committee, apart from one each for seller and buyer.
There is a complete replacement of competitive market with direct sourcing as the rules imply that the buyers will have to go to the farmer directly to buy the cattle. Further, the number of cattle houses will be reduced to one or two as compared to hundreds which existed before the notification.
Economic Implications of cattle ban
The government explains this move to be directed towards reducing illegal slaughtering of bovines in the country. Their aim is to eradicate all the illegal slaughter houses as such a practice is blatant in the country. For example, in 2013, the state of Andhra Pradesh estimated that there were 3,100 illegal and 6 licensed slaughterhouses in the state. The notification will surely upturn this scenario.
Further, a serious bone of contention has been the buffaloes. Buffalo meat is one of the primary sources of meat export in the country. The Indian buffalo meat industry exports worth $4 billion annually and more, apart from supplying raw hide to leather units that account for another $5.5 billion. Annual herd replacement through slaughter is 15 per cent or 16 million out of a total population of 108.70 million. The buffalo export industries will face the worst hit as procurement of raw material would become extremely difficult for them. They complain that they were not consulted before issuing such a notification which would jolt their business tremendously. As a result of which exports are prone to deceleration in upcoming months as the domestic supply chain is blocked. Another stakeholder is the farmer. The implication will be two-fold. Farmers often rear bulls and buffaloes instead of cows as they provide more milk and their meat fetches them more price. After the cattle (bulls and cows) have aged and stop milching, the farmer sells them in animal market and earns around 15,000-20,000 rupees out of the sale. But after the notification, it would become difficult to dispose off their cattle, also resulting in a low income. This would further lead to a hike in the prices of milk and milk products as the farmers would not receive their normal income. Now, a farmer may be forced to sell his cattle for half the price because of the absence of a free animal market. The last nail in the coffin is complex paper work as it will create a problem for such farmers and traders who are illiterate. The transportation of cattle has also become difficult because of the stringent norms and the highly charged cow vigilantes.
A new confusion is being raised due to the definition of lair age. If a lair age is also considered “animal market”, it rules out the possibility for slaughter of even livestock sourced directly from farms. Hence, slaughterhouse community is perplexed as their business might come to a standstill.
Many people see this new law as being religiously motivated. Cow is a holy animal for the majority whereas it is a source of protein and income for the minority. This tussle was aggravated on 23rd May as the ministry issued Cattle trade laws. The religious minorities including Muslims, Dalits eat beef and own the majority of slaughterhouses in the country. Also, some of them use aged cattle for making sacred sacrifices. On the other hand, Hindus worship cow as their mother and stand against eating and trading of beef. The government’s notification which was aimed at protection of the cattle was interpreted by some religiously charged people to be against the minority and took an ugly shape soon after its issuance. This has a history attached to it. BJP has often advocated cow protection along with its ideological supporter- RSS. Lately, there have been hot debates in the country on ruling government trying to change the eating habits of the country. A recent video of a Muslim man having been charged to have eaten beef and beaten up brutally by cow vigilantes went viral and depicts the gravity of the situation. It is being hyped up as a proxy war between the majority and minority with the government inclining towards the majority.
Regulating cattle trade is a state subject but animal welfare is handled by the Union. Environment ministry notified the rules under animal welfare laws but gave the enforcement power to district administration. States like Kerala and West Bengal have vehemently opposed the order and said that they will not follow even an inch of it. Kerala has organized beef festivals and West Bengal’s Chief Minister has asked its police not to approach any slaughter house for closing them. Mamta Banerjee posed the question of right to eat. She stated that what one wants to eat is a personal choice and state has no right to intervene in it. Kerala’s Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan called the ban as “anti-federal, anti-democratic and anti-secular”. He also urged his counterparts in other states to “stand together” and oppose it. Beef and buffalo are also some important ingredients in north-eastern states and a source of cheap protein for its poor people. Hence, the outcry roars from all directions in the ears of the Union.
Legality Under Question
According to some legal experts the legality of these rules is questionable. The Union has used ‘cruelty to animals’ to justify the new rules but the Act under which these rules have been framed does not treat slaughter as ‘cruelty’. While framing rules, one cannot override the Act. Further, the jurisdiction of preservation of animals falls exclusively under the state list. One can also see the new rules as barring one’s right to trade and profession which is a fundamental right under the Constitution of India. The ownership of cattle is also jeopardized when the owner is forbidden to sell it for first 6 months.
Cattle ban has lead to a huge outcry in the country. While the government states its pious intentions, many have been calling the guidelines un-secular and unreasonable. The economic front of the country is ought to be affected negatively because of the ban as the exporters are unable to receive the raw material. Internal economic turbulence will also occur because of the loss to farmers. The agenda is often being termed as political propaganda of the right winged government and faces stringent opposition from the leftists especially Kerala and West Bengal. Strife between the majority and minority has surfaced as the cow vigilantes become violent and numerous cases of deaths, rapes and injuries are reported because of beef consumption. However, the move is welcomed by the human right activists because of its protective approach towards the bovines. The Union has called for suggestions and promised to revise the ban if required. Indeed the Union needs to mull upon the implications of this ban as opposition becomes vigorous day by day.