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Stepping On Cattle Toes

Stepping On Cattle Toes

A constitutionally untenable decision; a retrograde and deceptive law; a strike at the very root of the federal structure; an irrational and senseless notification; a violation of the fundamental right to food and livelihood…. Thus go the remarks of top-notch legal luminaries and political pundits about the ban on sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter through agricultural markets, the main source of beef providers across the country. The above observations need a closer look to understand the absurdity and incongruity of the Environment Ministry’s unwarranted notification of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules 2017.

The new law draws its strength from a legislation of the Parliament, Prevention of Cruelty Act 1960. This Act does not prohibit slaughter of cattle for food. Rather it permits killing of animals for human consumption. But the new law goes against the letter and spirit of the Act, hence it is unsustainable in law. If the government wanted to change the existing Act, it should have gone back to Parliament, and the Act should have been amended.

The Constitution gives States exclusive powers to legislate on preservation of cattle. By encroaching on the States’ domain, the Modi Government has put the axe to the very federal structure of the country. There exist multiple State laws regarding slaughter or ban on slaughter of cattle. That is the reason why only buffalo meat is available in Delhi; the meat of bulls, bullocks and buffalo in Kerala; a complete prohibition on slaughter of cows, bulls, bullocks and buffaloes in Madhya Pradesh; and so on. Now the Centre has stepped into the domain of States, making a mockery of the federal system. 

N either the Constitution nor the Prevention of Cruelty Act makes slaughter of cattle a crime. Hence it is irrational, illegal and senseless for the Centre to make the same an offence. The government has not given a thought to the lakhs of people whose life solely depends on trades based of cattle slaughter. It will hit hard the farmers who will be burdened with unproductive cattle, unable to sell them in the market. On the other hand, the law does not touch big business groups which deal in packaged beef sold through super markets. It becomes abundantly clear for whom the heart of the ‘sab ka sath, sab ka vikas’ government beats.  

The new law is also an aberration of people’s right to food. A responsible government will not meddle with citizens’ food habits. No civilized country will indulge in such uncivilized manoeuvering and manipulation of legislation. The new law will give further boost to the vigilante groups to unleash unprecedented terror on unsuspecting people dealing in cattle trade.

A diverse country like India cannot be run by laws enacted on the whims and fancies of vested interests. The folly of the new law can be best brought out by quoting Justice J.C. Shah who wrote in 1969: “The sentiments of a section of the people may be hurt by permitting slaughter of bulls and bullocks….. But a prohibition imposed on the exercise of a fundamental right to carry on an occupation, trade or business will not be regarded as reasonable if it is imposed not in the interest of general public, but merely to respect the sentiments of a section of people.”

#(Published on 05th June 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 23)