SC and Centre lock horns on cows

SC and Centre lock horns on cows

Protection of cows is very much part of the mandate of the BJP's election strategy but that has received a push back from the Supreme Court on Tuesday , which recommended to extend across the country the Madras High Court order putting on hold the Central government's notification which banned the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter from the cattle market.

As a bench of Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud extended the operation of the Madras High Court order, the government told the court that it would be renotifying the Rules after considering objections from the stakeholders.(

The court order on Tuesday came on a plea by All India Jamitul Quresh Action Committee, which had challenged the notification banning the sale of cattle for slaughtering and regulating the transporting of livestock. (

It was contended by the organisation that both the rules banning sale of cattle for slaughtering and the other regulating the transporting of livestock were arbitrary, illegal, and unconstitutional. It also argued the rule that the purchaser of cattle "shall not sacrifice the animal for any religious purpose" was contrary to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, whose Section 28 says it is not an offence to "kill any animal in a manner required by the religion of any community". (

The Central government had on May 25 brought a notification by which sale and purchase of cattle in the cattle market for slaughter was banned.Farmers could only bring cattle to a market after submitting a written declaration that it would not be sold for slaughter.

The ban invited immense criticism and several states refused to implement it and had challenged the Centre's notification in court. The notification was challenged in Madras High Court on the grounds that it violated the basic right of an individual to choose his or her food. States like Kerala and Meghalaya have already passed resolutions against the Centre's notification saying that they will not implement the notification. The West Bengal and Tripura governments, were also quick to join the brigade.

In the Northeast, where beef is eaten widely, beef festivals were organized to protest the ban. Several BJP leaders in the northeast even left the party to protest the ban.

Appearing for the Centre, Additional Solicitor General P S Narasimha said the notification was issued by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), after inviting objections of the various states. However, given the sensitivities involved, the government was willing to take a relook at certain provisions and would make amendments if necessary. (

Problems with the law

Livestock markets are the prime centres of cattle trade and the farm-to-fork model is still a work in progress. Given that only about 10 percent of the cattle to be slaughtered are procured directly from farmers, the protest from the meat industry was expected.

According to the meat industry lobby, slaughter houses gets only 10 percent of the cattle directly from farmers. The rest happen in the country, where farmers bring their unused cattle to small, neighbourhood markets. From there, traders take cattle to bigger mandis. Halting this and imposing the farm-to-fork model overnight would have paralysed the industry jolting the rural economy where farmer sells his old cattle to raise funds to buy new cattle or invest in farm equipment. The scarcity of animals will also hurt the tanning and leather industries. (

Secondly, the Centre's new rules defined 'cattle' to include buffaloes, which wasn't the case earlier. Even when the restrictions were in place, the food that many hotels served as 'beef' was buffalo meat. The inclusion of buffaloes in this category came as a shock to both meat eaters and traders in many states. (

The ban affected thousands of livelihoods associated with the cattle industry. The suspension of the ban comes as relief for India's minority Muslim community and Dalits, considered untouchable, who are engaged in animal slaughter. (

Meat sellers have complained of the adverse impact on their trade including experts that is to the tune of Rs 1 lakh crore. (

Both seller and buyer of the cattle were forced to give an undertaking that it was not sold or bought for slaughter. More regressive is the section that bars a farmer, who bought a cattle, from selling it in the next six months. (

Increased incidents of mob lynching over beef rumors in recent months have also been seen. Last month, a mob stabbed to death 16-year-old Junaid Khan on a train to Mathura from Delhi, accusing him of carrying bags full of beef. In a similar incident also last month, a 45-year-old Muslim trader was killed by a mob of more than 100 people in Jharkhand's Ramgarh district on suspicions of carrying beef in his car. (

Twenty four states currently have in place either partial or full restrictions on sale, transport or slaughter of cows. The north-eastern states, and Kerala and West Bengal are exceptions, but the new regulations are likely to affect these states as well. (

The Centre must work in a way that does no harm to the meat industry. The Centre can direct states to ensure cattle ownership rules are followed strictly, animals are transported and sold in a fair manner to ensure proper functioning of cattle markets and treatment of animals.

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