The Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the Centre’s May 26 notification, banning cattle sale in livestock markets for slaughter and religious sacrifices.
The order came after the government acquiesced that public outcry and objections from the States about the law's impact on livelihoods made it realise that the rules need “tweaking”.
Appearing before a Bench of Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Additional Solicitor-General P. Narasimha chose his words carefully while saying the government had received a “large number of representations” that “certain aspects” of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Maintenance of Case Property Animals) Act, 2017 were “troubling” and threw up some “sensitive” questions about the Central rules.
“We realised that certain aspects need tweaking,” Mr. Narasimha submitted.
The law officer however quickly added that a re-look at the rules does not mean a repeal.
Mr Narasimha said the rules would be amended keeping in mind the interests of the various stakeholders, including the meat industry, and re-notified.
The law officer conveyed to the court that the Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, was already working on the amendments to the rules and they would be completed by August.
Mr. Narasimha apprised the Bench that the rules have already been stayed by the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court in May last. The Centre submitted it was not challenging the four-week stay order passed by the High Court.
The fact that the Madras High Court’s stay order had lapsed on July 7 did not stop the Supreme Court from endorsing it. “The directions of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court shall extend through out the country,” the Supreme Court ordered.
The court however, did not agree with the Centre’s suggestion that the States should meanwhile go forward with the work of identifying animal market spaces within their jurisdictions as per the existing rules.
"A balanced view will be needed to keep the rules in abeyance until you finalise everything and re-notify the amended rules," Chief Justice Khehar observed.
The court further directed the Centre that once the amended rules are notified, the latter should give the States and the various interest parties sufficient time too implement the changes.
The Bench indicated orally was to make doubly sure that the Centre, in the interim, does not press the States to implement the current rules.
The court disposed of the bunch of petitions led by one filed by Mohammed Abdul Faheem Qureshi, a Hyderabad-based lawyer and the president of All India Jamiatul Quresh Action Committee, contending that the enforcement of the rules would cast a “huge economic burden on farmers” and cattle traders, exposing them to harassment by cow vigilantes and the police.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the petitioners, said the rules have instilled a sense of fear in many. “Animal markets is in the State List. The Centre cannot dictate where and how the markets are to be established and conducted. This itself is an intrusion,” Mr. Sibal argued.
The petition contended that the Livestock Markets Rules banning the sale or purchase of cattle for slaughter in animal markets extends the definition of “animal markets” to “any other premises or place” to which animals are brought for sale.
“Therefore, the impugned provisions are imposing an absolute ban on slaughtering of animals in the country, directly effecting the employment of the butchers and depriving citizens to have the food of their choice,” it argued. It said the restriction on slaughter would force farmers, unable to feed their children, to hold on to “useless” cattle and feed them.
The petition points to how vigilante attacks on cattle traders have increased and the notifications may vitiate the atmosphere. It claimed that the rules were violative of the fundamental right to carry on trade and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act of 1960, under which the rules were notified, itself does not ban cattle slaughter.