The Supreme Court, while hearing a matter on cow slaughter ban, said that Madras High Court’s stay on the government’s notification banning the sale of cattle for slaughter at animal markets is operational throughout the country.
The Story Till Now:
On May 25, the Central government, through an order imposed a ban on the sale of cattle, including cows, for slaughter and restricted cattle trade solely for agricultural purposes.
Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had notified the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017 to ensure that the sale of cattle is not meant for slaughter purposes. Regulating animal trade is a state business, but animal welfare is a central subject, thereby providing the window for the ministry to notify the rule.
There was widespread opposition to the order, with many states openly denying accepting the notification. Earlier, the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court had stayed the Centre’s notification on cattle slaughter ban.
The SC Bench comprising Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud took note of the statement of the Central Government that it was reconsidering the notification by taking into account various objections and suggestions of stakeholders and would come up with an amended notification.
The officials had cited animal cruelty and unregulated animal trade as reasons behind the ban, while critics believed the ban to be “unconstitutional” as it endangered the livelihood of millions of Indians employed in the cattle-related industries.The apex court’s suspension of the ban gives relief to the multi-billion dollar beef and leather industry. India’s bovine industry is one of the largest in the world and employs millions of people.
In the world market, India has been the top beef exporter till 2016. Increased cases of mob lynching in the name of saving cattle and the subsequent government ban on cattle trade hurt this industry. As the fifth largest meat producer, India produces 6.3 million tonnes of meat, which is about three percent of world’s total meat production — 220 million tonnes.
Much of India’s meat and leather trade takes place through the informal economy, meaning the impact of the closing of illegal slaughterhouses and ban on trading for slaughter is hard to measure. The decline in production of meat means fewer jobs for two of India’s poorest communities, and risks inflaming social tensions.
The May 23 notification had said those who wished to sell cattle — bulls, cows, buffaloes, steers, heifers and camels — may do so only after they formally stated that the animals had not been “brought to the market for sale for slaughter”.
Buyers of cattle at animal markets would have to verify they were agriculturalists and declare not to sell the animal/s for six months from the date of purchase. Animal markets wouldn’t be allowed to function within 25 km of a State border and 50 km from an international border.
The rules envisage the constitution of district animal market monitoring committee and an animal market committee.
Where did the ‘Beef ban’ perception come from?
The ban on cattle slaughter was seen as an indirect ban on beef consumption and an attempt by the Government to regulate eating habits and spread an ideology that demanded people uphold the status of the cow as a sacred animal, irrespective of religious beliefs.
The rules did not mention a ban on slaughter or consumption of beef. The government of India claims that the misconception has been brought about by a lack of understanding of the notification. But, a ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter at the cattle market is bound to restrict the supply of beef for local consumption.
Kerala led the charge against the supposed ban, by organising beef fests. Members of the Kerala Youth Congress drew ire for slaughtering a calf in the middle of the street in Kannur. Beef fests were witnessed in IIT-Madras too, with the organiser being attacked. While the accused has denied any affiliations to political parties, the DMK and the CPI (M) in Chennai organised rallies and protests outside the campus, giving the incident a communal colour.
If implemented, the new rules would have created a huge deficit in the meat that is consumed locally. Lower income groups and particularly Scheduled Caste community members rely on beef for their source of animal protein, as it is cheaper than other sources. Beef is about 50 percent cheaper than chicken may be because there is no quality check on the meat that is consumed in cities.
The issue has become highly emotive with a wave of attacks on Muslims suspected of either storing meat or transporting cattle for slaughter. Late last month, after months of silence on the violence, PM Modi condemned the lynchings. Media has reported at least two cases of attacks on Muslims since Modi spoke out.
Protests are taking place across India against rising attacks on Muslims and Dalits by vigilante cow protection groups. The social media campaign against mob lynchings, #NotInMyName, started with a Facebook post.
Muslims were the target of 51 percent of violence centred on bovine issues over nearly eight years (2010 to 2017) and comprised 86 percent of 28 Indians killed in 63 incidents, according to an IndiaSpend content analysis of the English media. As many of 97 percent of these attacks were reported after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power in May 2014, and about half the cow-related violence – 32 of 63 cases – were from states governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when the attacks were reported.
Of the 28 Indians who died over the seven-year period, 24, or 86 percent, were Muslim. As many as 124 people were also injured in these attacks. More than half (52 percent) of these attacks were based on rumours
In the first six months of 2017, 20 cow-related attacks were reported – more than 75 percent of the 2016 figure, which was the worst year for such violence since 2010.
The attacks include mob lynching, attacks by vigilantes, murder and attempt to murder, harassment and assault.
While the government denies any pattern to the incidents, it is equally important for the government to ensure that even the perception of a pattern does not persist.
How will the legalities proceed?
The July 11 order effectively puts on hold the cattle slaughter ban across the nation, until new rules are put in place.It was added that once the new rules were notified, sufficient time would be given by the Centre for its implementation. The batch of petitions challenging the current cattle trade rules was accordingly disposed of.
Additional solicitor general P.S. Narasimha, appearing for the Centre, added that the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) was seized of the issue and was working towards defining the amended rules. The court also measures would be undertaken to enable aggrieved people to approach the court again once the new rules are notified.