The Centre has banned the sale of cattle for slaughter at animal markets across the country.
Under a notification, titled the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017, those who wish to sell cattle — bulls, cows, buffaloes, steers, heifers and camels — may do so only after they formally state that the animals have not been “brought to the market for sale for slaughter”.
Verification of buyers
At the same time, buyers of cattle at animal markets will have to verify they are agriculturalists and declare that they will not sell the animal/s for a period of six months from the date of purchase.
The rules, notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on May 23, demand that buyers “follow the State cattle protection and preservation laws” and “not sacrifice the animal for any religious purpose”. They also prohibit cattle purchased from animal markets being sold outside the State, without permission.
Monitoring committees at the State and district levels will be set up to implement the rules and monitor the functioning of animal markets. Such markets will be identified and registered; any new market that is set up will need the approval of the District Animal Market Monitoring Committee, which will be chaired by the Collector or District Magistrate.
To inhibit smuggling, animal markets may not function within 25 kilometres of a State border and 50 kilometres of an international border.
Rules meant to regulate animal markets: Minister
The new rules banning the sale and purchase of cattle from animal markets for slaughter aim at regulating such markets and also the sale of bovines, Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Friday.
Noting that the rules are very “specific”, the Minister said that sellers and buyers have to ensure that cattle are not brought or sold in the markets for slaughter purpose and an undertaking to this effect has to obtained.
“The aim of the rules is only to regulate the animal market and sale of cattle in them and ensure welfare of cattle dealt in them.”
The notification drew the strongest response from Kerala, where Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan declared it was part of a plan to further the RSS agenda. He said in a statement that the Centre’s action was contrary to diversity, which is the core of Indian democracy. All major parties in the State, barring the BJP, were critical of the decision with the Congress Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala describing the notification as a threat to human rights.
Impact on industry
While individuals have not been prevented from selling cattle for slaughter, representatives from the meat and livestock industry have expressed serious concern about the impact of the notification. D.B. Sabharwal, secretary general, All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association, said representatives from the industry have asked for a meeting with Central government ministers and senior officials including in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to inform them about the adverse impact on industry, employment as well as the export sector.
He said that 90% of buffaloes are sourced from mandis by middlemen for sale in slaughterhouses against a mere 10% that is bought directly from farmers. He added while the Centre is empowered to frame rules, implementation of the regulation of livestock falls under the State government’s ambit.
Sources said that Harsha Vardhan, who recently took charge as the new Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, is likely to meet the industry representatives soon.
Notification comes after SC directive
The notification banning the sale of cattle for slaughter at animal markets under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017, issued on Friday follows a Supreme Court directive to the government to form an inter-ministerial committee to recommend ways of preventing cattle smuggling.
The SC directive itself was in response to a 2014 writ petition by Gauri Mulekhi of People for Animals.
The committee recommended, among other things, rules to be framed under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 to regulate livestock markets.
Welcoming the rules, Ms. Maulekhi told The Hindu that the rules will go a long way in weeding out “middlemen” from the supply chain linking farm-heads to slaughter houses. “This will improve traceability (of zoonotic diseases), curb illegitimate slaughter and smuggling and, put the onus on cattle-owners to dispose of their animals responsibly, “ she said.
The notification also contains a slew of provisions to prevent the cruel transport and treatment of animals. Prohibited practices that are cruel and harmful include sealing teats of the udder using any material such as adhesive tapes to prevent the calf from suckling, putting any ornaments or decorative materials on animals, using any type of muzzle to prevent animals from suckling or eating food and injecting oxytocin into milch animals.
SC had taken varied positions on cattle issue
For years, the Supreme Court has struggled for consistency in its judicial pronouncements regarding cattle, leaving it ultimately to the Centre and States to devise an appropriate policy.
While Supreme Court banned the bull-running sport jallikattu as cruel, it refused to intervene with States to frame a uniform policy on cattle slaughter. Neither did the court deem it fit to examine a plea to ban animal sacrifices for religious purposes.
“The balance and harmony of all faiths, this court is bound to it. Your petition makes generalised statements on a very, very sensitive matter.. We have to close our eyes to centuries and centuries old traditions,” Chief Justice of India (as he was then) H.L. Dattu orally observed in court to a petition filed by a journalist, Varaaki, in September 2015.
The petition had contended that “faith, religion, customs and practices should not take precedence over lawful rights, human or animal. This being true for all religious communities, whether it be Durga pooja, the slaughter of lambs for Easter, turkeys for Thanksgiving or goats for Bakri-Eid.”
Again, in 2017, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar declined a plea by Delhi resident Vineet Sahai to direct the States to frame a national policy as contradicting laws ensured a favourable clime for illegal inter-State transportation of cattle.
In April 2017, the apex court had asked the Centre to extend to India-Bangladesh border areas its rules framed to counter the smuggling of cattle to territories in Nepal.
Legal precedents also show that the court had differed on the question whether beef was a “poor man’s diet”.