The BJP-led NDA government has created an avoidable controversy by issuing a notification called the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017, asking those who sell bulls, cows, buffaloes, heifers, camels and other such animals to formally state that their animals have not been “brought to the market for sale for slaughter”.
The notification also wants buyers of cattle in animal markets to verify that they are agriculturalists and that they will not sell the animals they buy for at least six months from the date of purchase.
Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan has asserted that the rules are very “specific” as these clearly say that sellers and buyers have to ensure that cattle are not brought or sold in the markets for slaughter purposes and an undertaking to this effect needs to be obtained.
According to him, “The aim of the rules is only to regulate the animal market and the sale of cattle in them, and ensure welfare of cattle dealt in them.”
The notification has led to some states declaring their open defiance of the Centre’s latest notification on the sale of cattle for slaughter purposes. Karnataka, Kerala, West Bengal, Tripura and Puducherry have asserted that the matter is a state subject, as defined in the Constitution, and there should be no imposition of any rule from the Centre in this respect. The Constitution’s federal scheme of things must be respected in the larger interest of the country.
Karnataka Chief Minister K. Siddaramaiah has stated that "It is not mandatory to follow every notification which comes from Centre as this matter is a state issue." His government will respond to the Centre’s move after looking into all aspects of the issue, including the feelings of various communities. In any case, Karnataka already has the Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, 1964, to deal with issues related to animal slaughter.
Describing the Centre’s move as "anti-Constitution" and an "attempt to encroach upon the powers of the states", Karnataka Law Minister TB Jayachandra said, "The rules framed under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act overlap the provisions of the state’s Act and also contradict the Central law. In my opinion, they will not stand the test of law."
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has described the restrictions imposed on cattle trade as an “anti-democratic” step, aimed at usurping the state governments' powers in the guise of framing rules under a Central Act. He has also written a letter to the Chief Ministers of other states, pointing out that the restrictions would hit millions of people, particularly those engaged in the agricultural sectors, as it is directly linked to their sources of livelihood.
Reacting strongly against the Centre’s notification imposing restrictions on the sale of animals in livestock markets and fairs, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has declared that her government will not implement the new rules. She described the Centre’s move as “undemocratic, unconstitutional and unethical”. A similar stand has been taken by the Government of Puducherry, too, where the state legislature adopted a resolution to register its protest over the matter.
Interestingly, amidst all this, the ruling BJP has come out with a rider that there would be no such rule in three northeastern states – Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland – where elections are scheduled to be held next year. The three states are Christian-majority ones where beef is widely consumed.
The BJP’s Meghalaya unit general secretary, David Kharsati, has gone to the extent of blaming “groups with vested interest” for “spreading rumours”.
According to Nagaland BJP chief Visasolie Lhoungu, “Ban on cow slaughter like the one in UP won’t take effect in Nagaland if our party comes to power next year. The reality here is very different and our central leaders are aware of that.”
The Centre’s move has come after the Yogi Adityanath government in UP began a calculated drive against the slaughter of cow and its progeny, with vigilante groups taking the law into their own hands to implement the state government’s plan. While there is clear agreement that cows should not be touched for beef purposes under all circumstances in the Hindi heartland, but targeting slaughter houses being run in accordance with the law is unfair and must be prevented.
The state government has stated that all abattoirs must have a licence to carry on their activity, but this has encouraged vigilante groups to attack anyone suspected to be carrying animals for being sold to slaughter houses. This has led to many innocent people losing their lives like Pehlu Khan in Rajasthan. Such happenings have created a scare among minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians in North India, giving the country a bad name at the global level. But the Centre and the BJP governments in states remain unmoved as this appears to be linked to the Hindutva agenda.
The Centre’s notification and what has been happening in UP and other Hindi-belt states have upset those engaged in meat and livestock export. According to All-India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association Secretary-General D.B. Sabharwal, representatives from the industry have decided to bring to the notice of the Central government that the move is having an adverse impact on industry, employment as well as the export sector. There is need for a dispassionate and closer look at it.
Sabharwal has stated that 90 per cent of the buffaloes for slaughter houses are purchased from mandis by middlemen whereas merely 10 of such animals are sourced directly from farmers. This reality must be kept in view while implementing the Centre’s notification.
Of course, the controversial notification banning the sale of cattle for slaughter at animal markets has come following a Supreme Court directive to the government to form an inter-ministerial committee to recommend ways of preventing cattle smuggling. However, the court has only been struggling for years for consistency in its pronouncements in this regard, leaving the matter to the Centre and the states to formulate a proper and appropriate policy so that there is no confusion and every activity related to beef and meat trade is carried on fearlessly.
In any case, it must be kept in view that if religious sentiments of a large section of the population will have to be respected, people’s right to eat what they wish to must also be protected in the interest of justice and fair play. India is a country of diverse faiths, cultures and traditions with varying food habits. Ignoring this reality, as seen in different states, will amount to playing with the federal character of the Constitution. Is the Centre listening?
(The writer, a Delhi-based columnist, is a former Deputy Editor of The Tribune, Chandigarh.)
#(Published on 05th June 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 23)