Debunking myths about the cattle rules

The new rules governing cattle markets only attempt to prevent cruelty

June 23, 2017 12:05 am | Updated December 04, 2021 10:44 pm IST

The cow and all the hoopla around it — political and otherwise — provide periodic bouts of consternation to the nation. This time, the provocation are the provisions of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Market) Rules, 2017. These rules are sought to be lampooned on two main grounds. First, that they are the product of a government with a divisive agenda that is trying to push the creed and beliefs of the majority down the throats of certain communities and classes.

Second, that the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA) have been used as a convenient peg to hang this devious attempt on. Since not only the devil but also clarity lies in details, let us examine these charges objectively.

As for the first allegation of communal bias, it may be worthwhile to note some salient aspects. These rules have been enacted under the power to make rules under the PCA; second, they do not ban slaughter of cows or cattle; and these rules do not prevent anyone from eating beef. So what exactly do the rules do? They seek, inter alia, to regulate the sale and slaughter of cattle and certain other animals. But what has that got to do with the PCA? Therein lies a tale.

How the rules came about

In a case before the Supreme Court of India, i.e. W.P. (Civil) No.881 of 2014 filed by one Gauri Maulekhi vs. Union of Indiaand others , the apex court passed an order dated July 12, 2015 to frame guidelines to prevent animals from being smuggled out of India to places like Nepal where large-scale animal sacrifices take place during the Gadhimai Festival. The allegation was that buffaloes (buffaloes mind you, not cows) were purchased in markets kept there in unhygienic conditions and were transported in appallingly abominable conditions to Nepal where they were slaughtered in large numbers.

The Supreme Court granted a stay of such transportation to Nepal. It also constituted a committee to suggest solutions to stop these cruelties from being perpetrated on animals. The court then directed the suggestions of the committee to be taken into account and that rules with regard to livestock markets and connected issues be also notified. On July 12, 2016, the Supreme Court by the way of a final order directed the Union government to frame rules under Section 38 of the PCA.

The Animal Welfare Board of India prepared the draft rules incorporating all the suggestions made by the Supreme Court in the above-mentioned case. Thereafter, the draft of the presently impugned rules was notified on January 16, 2017 inviting objections and suggestions within 30 days. Thirteen representations were received regarding the rules, duly examined and incorporated wherever found suitable. The rules were finally notified on May 23, 2017.

Therefore the purpose of these rules was not some sinister plot to push through a communal agenda but merely to comply with directions of the Supreme Court in letter and spirit.

Further, as a matter of fact it was found that it is in the market that cruel practices like hot branding, cold branding, shearing, bishoping of horses, ear cutting in buffaloes, sealing teats of udder with adhesives, etc. actually happen.

It is plain that the attempt was only to prevent these atrocities. In fact, without going into all the above lengthy explanations, just a perusal of Rule 14(h) is enough to debunk the myth of a communal bias in the rules. This rule prohibits “putting ornaments or decorative materials on animals”. One wonders whether rules allegedly framed with a communal bias will bung a spanner in the works of several Hindu festivals. One cannot even imagine a Thrissur Pooram festival without the brightly ornamented and caparisoned elephants. So, in the light of all this, what great communal bias is discernible in these rules? And how valid is the charge that the PCA has been used as a convenient instrument to further this sinister plot? This is not to say that the rules are perfect. They may be otherwise deficient but that really is for courts to decide.

We must remember that the harmony of our polity is a very fragile one. Never in the history of the human race have people with such mind-boggling diversity of caste, creed, language, customs and culture agreed to come together as a nation and agreed to be bound by the promises offered by a secular and egalitarian Constitution. If there be attempts to disturb this harmony, stern retaliation is in order. However, in burdening every official act with the murk of communal bias, the alarmists will only be reducing themselves to the status of the boy who cried wolf. When the wolf does arrive (one hopes it never does), we may have lost our collective capacity to react.

( N.L. Rajah is a Senior Advocate at the Madras High Court )

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