The Narendra Modi government has come up with several fancy schemes to placate the poor, the unemployed youth, farmers, petty vendors, small entrepreneurs and so on. Many schemes, towns, cities and policies were renamed and many were reintroduced albeit with a little tinkering here and there. Incidentally, the ruling party had opposed them during the Congress-led UPA government.
While the policies that the government announced like Smart Cities, Make in India, Skill India and Start-up India were used to mobilise resources from foreign and domestic institutional investors, the cow was used to promote the Hindutva agenda. Yes, we all grew up hearing “gaye hamari mata hai (cow is our mother)” but never had we heard people being killed, allegedly for consuming beef.
The campaign led to the ban on beef, empowerment of gau-rakshaks, several people losing their lives and it culminated in the notification of new rules on May 23 under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960, thereby putting a blanket ban on cattle trade for slaughter.
The new rules, apparently notified for regulating the animal markets, affected only cattle. All other animals were kept out of their purview as if only cattle were vulnerable and all other animals like dogs, pigs, poultry etc., were leading a happy life.
Both the supplier and purchaser of cattle were mandatorily required to give a declaration that “cattle has not been brought to animal market (which includes slaughter house) for sale for slaughter”. Of course, both parties were asked to provide their identity and photograph. In other words, the rules prevent buying/selling of cattle including buffaloes, in the animal markets for the purpose of slaughter.
But, then, does this document help in saving the life of the poor trader? The recent lynching of Pehlu Khan in Alwar says no. The poor dairy farmer had valid documents showing that the animals would be used for agricultural purposes. Yet, he was killed by a mob.
A few government officials argued that the rules were enforced to prevent slaughtering of unhealthy animals, which result in spreading infectious diseases. Clearly, the content did not match the intent professed by these officials.
Amidst all this, a few people started questioning whether the Centre had the power to promulgate such rules. The law says that regulation of market committees, including those for animal trade, is a state subject. Also, the law regulating the slaughter of animals is described in Entry 15 of List II (prevention, protection, improvement of stock and prevention of animal diseases, veterinary training and practice). Either way, the Centre violated the law while making such rules.
The only way it can regulate markets is by restricting the fundamental right to trade in cattle. Incidentally, the new rules also said that state cattle protection and prevention laws have to be complied with. When the rules were announced, there were certain states without any prohibition on slaughter of cattle while a few had some restrictions.
To cut the long story short, the Centre notified the rules for compliance by the state governments. This was despite the fact that it had no authority to do so. The Act itself does not prohibit slaughter of animals for human consumption. It has given guidelines on how slaughter can take place with minimum pain or suffering. How can, then, the rules be made to defeat the intention of lawmakers?
Soon after the notification of rules, there were nation-wide protests. A public interest litigation was moved in the Madras High court by a Madurai-based activist and lawyer S Selvagomathy arguing that the Centre had no authority to ban the sale of animals in markets for slaughter. The Madurai bench of the High Court on May 29 stayed the rules for four weeks and held that an individual had full right to choose the kind of food he wanted to eat. On June 29, the court stayed the rules for another four weeks.
Following the Madras High Court order, the Supreme Court, too, stayed the applicability of rules for a period of three months on July 11. Acting on a plea filed by Kapil Sibal and Salman Khurshid on behalf of the All India Jamaitul Quresh, the apex court held that “livelihood cannot be subjected to uncertainties”. The court also said that whenever an existing law or rules were changed, the government should give time for the opposing parties to challenge such an order in the court.
While taking note of the statement made by the Centre that it was reconsidering the notification, a bench comprising Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud held that “Needless to say that the interim direction issued by the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court shall continue and extend to the entire country”.
While the government assured that the rules would not be put into effect and it would come up with new rules taking into account suggestions from different stakeholders, it also showed that it did not consult anyone before the rules were framed. Though it said that the rules were placed in public domain in the month of January, the nation-wide protests from the farmers and traders showed that they were largely kept uninformed.
The animal-rights activists took the lead in getting such rules formulated. The worst part was that it gave an impetus to the so-called gau-rakshaks to accelerate violence against cattle traders, especially Muslims and Dalits.
The blanket ban would have cost India dearly. As per the annual report of the Department of Animal Husbandry, cattle meat has a share of only 5 per cent in the overall meat production while buffalo meat and poultry constitutes 23 per cent and 46 per cent respectively of the total meat production.
As the new definition of cattle includes buffalo, the total cattle meat production will now be 28 per cent. Imagine, meat production would have fallen by around 30 per cent in case the apex court had not stayed the enforcement of rules.
Over these years, India became one of the largest beef-exporting countries with an export volume of $4 billion. No beef production means a huge loss to the Indian economy and a jump in the current account deficit as well.
An estimate says that not all the animals are slaughtered for meat. Around 70 per cent of carcass of slaughtered animals is used for running various industries. The hides and bones of slaughtered cattle are used in several manufacturing units including soap, toothpaste, buttons etc. What will happen to these industries?
They will certainly die an unnatural death making around 70 lakh people unemployed. Can we afford to add on such a huge number to the list of unemployed people in the country? Certainly not.
It is estimated that maintenance of one uneconomic cattle costs around Rs. 40,000 a year, which is too high a cost for an average farmer. A renowned agricultural economist warned that India would be spending 1.5 times its current deficit for the upkeep and maintenance of 27 crore unproductive animals! Every year around 3.4 crore male calves are produced. Assuming a life-span of seven years, the country would have to spend an additional Rs. 5.4 lakh crore (35 times the annual budget of animal husbandry for both states and the Centre). Apart from this, there would be an additional capital expenditure of around Rs. 10 lakh crore for building sheds which would also require huge land.
Can we afford to spend such a huge amount on maintenance of unproductive cattle when one-third of children born in India suffer from stunted growth and malnutrition?
These are certainly a few questions that need to be answered before taking any decision for glorifying cow-worship.
The Supreme Court ruling has come as a big relief for small traders for the time being. However, the threat remains, be it from gau-rakshaks or the cow-obsessed Modi government!
(The writer is a company secretary and director, communications, Deepalaya and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 17th July 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 29)