Why this buzz about cattle among the citizens of India in the past few weeks?
On May 26, 2017, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change imposed a new set of rules in order to regulate livestock markets. The salient features of these rules are:
(i) The buyer has to give a signed declaration stating that the animal is being sold only for agricultural purposes, and not for slaughter, including religious sacrifice.
(ii) The buyer and seller show relevant revenue documents to prove that they are agriculturists.
(iii) The buyer and seller have to submit copies of their identity proof.
(iv) Buyers have to declare that they will not sell the animals for a period of six months from the date of purchase.
(v) The animal market committee shall be responsible for ensuring that the rules are followed, and will maintain a record of names and addresses of the buyer and seller.
(vi) Cattle cannot be sold outside the state without permission. Cattle markets cannot be set up within 25kms of a state boundary and 50kms of an international boundary.
Cattle here refers to bulls, cows, buffalos, steers, heifers, calves and camels. This notification under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017, follows a Supreme Court directive to the government to form an inter-ministerial committee to recommend ways of preventing cattle smuggling.
Which sections of the population does this affect and how?
India has a thriving beef-meat industry and is the world’s largest exporter of buffalo meat. The large slaughterhouses can no longer procure cattle in bulk from animal markets. They will have to source animals from individual farmers. Until now, a majority of the animals sent for slaughter were procured through animal markets.
India’s leather industry is of historic significance and is dependent on the hides of the cattle which are slaughtered. Again, sourcing raw material will become difficult.
However, farmers will be hit the hardest, as selling old, diseased or unproductive cattle was an additional source of income. The sale of animals for slaughter meant that cattle had a high resale value, even past their milk-yielding years. The average Hindu farmer may not consume beef, but he may not be in a position to spend for the maintenance of cattle after its productive years. This applies to both milch and draught animals. In recent years, increased mechanisation has rendered the males useless. And in times of financial distress, farmers sell some of their animals. Studies point that nearly 40% income of a dairy farm is derived from the sale of unproductive cows.
Is that why there is so much public uproar against the new law?
The law has irked a large number of Indians who consume beef as part of their regular diet. Beef is widely popular among Muslims, Christians, Adivasis and those belonging to the Scheduled Castes. Beef is also a significant part of the culinary traditions of the people of Kerala, West Bengal and the North Eastern states. Moreover, this move is likely to increase the numbers of stray cattle. Stray animals, apart from being a nuisance, are also a menace in maintaining clean and hygienic public spaces. This has led to massive protests across the country – numerous PILs filed, beef fests held – asking the government to call back the rules.
What was the state of cattle slaughter in India before this notification?
Slaughter of cattle has generally been looked down in India, as this involves the killing of an animal which produces milk, one of the fundamental components of nutrition. The male animals were also revered for their labour. Their indispensable role in agricultural and economic prosperity must have prompted the ancient Hindus to respect and uplift the cow to a sacred position.
Twenty-four of the twenty-nine states in present-day India have various restrictions on cattle slaughter. Most states allow cattle slaughter only after a ‘fit for slaughter’ certificate is awarded, while some states ban the slaughter of all cattle. In regions where beef consumption is high, cattle slaughter has been unrestricted. One must note that in the above-mentioned cases, “cattle” excludes buffaloes.
In the northern and western states of India, referred to as the “cow belt”, the ban on cow slaughter encouraged farmers to raise buffaloes – they produced milk richer in fat and also had a high resale value. This is one of the main contributing factors to the rise of India’s buffalo beef industry. The new laws, however, term buffaloes as cattle and restrict the sale of buffaloes for slaughter at animal markets.
Does this mean Indians will no longer get to consume beef?
At the outset, this law does not ban the slaughter of cattle for meat. It just mandates that animals for slaughter must be sold directly to slaughterhouses or butchers and not via an animal market. This is done to eliminate the interference of middlemen traders who procure animals from farmers and sell them in bulk to slaughter houses. The government explains that the aim of the new rules is to regulate livestock markets and ensure the welfare of cattle. However, these rules do bottle-neck the beef industry by making it difficult to source animals.
What is the Constitution’s take on this?
India’s Constitution clearly demarcates the areas for which decisions can be taken by the Central government and the respective state governments. Preservation, protection and improvement of livestock and livestock markets is a state-exclusive issue. Only the state governments have the powers to take a decision in these areas. However, animal cruelty is a subject enlisted in the concurrent list, that the states and the centre can legislate. The Constitution also says that in the case of any conflicts between the Centre and states on issues related to concurrent list, the centre’s rule will prevail except in certain circumstances.
In fact, this is not the first time that the government has intervened in people’s dietary choices. Back in the 1970s, when there was a scarcity of milk, milk sweets were banned in Delhi temporarily. Recently, we saw how the government stalled the production of Maggi noodles amid claims that they contain dangerously high levels of lead. However, this time, the new rules have not been well received by the citizens because of the lack of strong reasons to support the new rules. Even if the government wants to take steps to prevent animal cruelty, why does it limit itself to just cattle?
On the whole, do the new laws mean better days for cattle?
The new rules have highlighted the importance of safely and hygienically transporting cattle to and from markets. These provisions will certainly mean better living conditions for cattle. However, with the new rules, there is a high chance for cattle to lose their resale value. This might persuade farmers to abandon their unproductive animals as strays. Or worse still, farmers could abandon rearing cattle. Apart from a dip in the dairy industry, over the years, this may also mean the loss of various breeds of domesticated cattle.
When faced with a similar dilemma between traditions versus animal cruelty in the case of Jallikattu, people’s movement helped keep the sport alive. Their passionate sentiments along with the awareness to preserve indigenous bulls could drive home the point. Here too, we can hope that the outcry of those affected, persuades the government to annul the law.
– Sripradha S