Controversy

In the name of cattle protection

Print edition : June 23, 2017

Undernourished cattle near Sangareddy in Medak district of Telangana. Photo: P.V. SIVAKUMAR

Students of IIT Madras at a demonstration on June 1 seeking the expulsion of a student who assaulted a research scholar for participating in a beef fest. Photo: PTI

The Centre’s notification restricting cattle slaughter reeks of political expediency and will only serve to hurt rural economies that are already reeling under the impact of agricultural failure.

ON May 23, less than two months after the lynching of Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer from Haryana, on April 1, the Union Ministry for Environment, Forest and Climate Change notified the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Market) Rules, 2017, under the parent Act, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, which effectively banned the sale of cattle in animal markets for purposes other an agricultural ones. In short, the rules have laid an all-encompassing ban on the sale of animals, especially all bovine species including the buffalo, for the purpose of slaughter at animal fairs.

Pehlu Khan, it may be recalled, was returning from a cattle fair organised by the Jaipur municipal authorities when he was waylaid on the national highway in Alwar and lynched by self-styled cow vigilantes on suspicion of taking the cows for the purpose of slaughter. Responding to a petition challenging the Central government notification on the grounds that it violated the federal structure, ran contrary to the parent legislation (which was silent on slaughter for food purposes), and was related to food habits and should, hence, have been approved by Parliament, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court granted a four-week stay and gave the Centre a month to file its response.

The new rules evoked widespread opprobrium and outrage. While trade associations like the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association and other bodies trading in meat and leather protested against the notification, the Left Democratic Front government in Kerala became the first State government to publicly criticise the notification. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who followed suit, added that vigil would be stepped up in border areas to check cattle smuggling. Kerala Chief Minister Pinaryi Vijayan declared his intention to defy the notification, stating that the government would also legally challenge it. Meanwhile, there was uneasiness within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too. A prominent BJP leader in Meghalaya quit the party owing to his disagreement with the politics of beef pursued by it.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) called the notification an encroachment on the rights of States and “an atrocious attempt by the Modi government to give legal cover for its wholly communal and divisive agenda to impose a diet code on the country”. It would “destroy the livelihood of crores of farmers involved in animal husbandry, eliminate traditional cattle fairs, [and] put an unfair burden on farmers to care for useless cattle. This further burdens the farmers who are increasingly resorting to distress suicides because of escalating input costs. It will also impact on the leather industry and the meat export industry, affecting the livelihood of lakhs of people,” said the CPI(M).

All Left and other opposition parties spoke out against the notification in similarly strong terms. Peasant farmer organisations like the All India Kisan Sabha vowed to take the protest to the streets as they had done after the lynching of Pehlu Khan.

Students came out in defiance in some southern States, organising beef fests, which evoked violent reactions from those seeking a nationwide ban on cow slaughter. A student in IIT Madras was severely beaten up on the campus. He almost lost an eye in the process for participating in a beef fest.

On the face of it, the notification seems harmless enough and well-intended, aimed at the prevention of cruelty to animals. It appears compassionate enough, detailing the various ways pain was inflicted on animals. The rules call for the setting up of new structures like Animal Market Committees (AMCs) and District Animal Marketing Committees. They explicitly state that any person convicted under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act or any cattle preservation law made by a State government shall be prohibited from being a member of any such committee and shall not be allowed to take part in the regulation of the animal market. Similarly, such persons shall be prevented from being members of the market committees set up for the management of animal markets. All animal markets would henceforth have to register themselves with the District Animal Market Monitoring Committee.

Real intent exposed

It is the latter half of the notification that reveals the underlying political intent. A study of the rules reveals that they have been designed not so much with the intent of preventing cruelty to animals as with the intent of harassing people involved in the meat trade and, by implication, members of the Muslim community, who dominate the meat and leather sectors. The new rules are bound to have far-reaching and wide-ranging effects on the meat, leather, livestock and dairy industries, apart from causing severe damage to the already fragile rural economy and the rural populace. Sections 22 and 8 of the rules betray the real intent of the notification. Section 22, for instance, expressly places restrictions on and calls for strict monitoring of all cattle sales and purchases, thereby effectively prohibiting the sale of cattle (all bovine species, including the buffalo) for slaughter at animal markets. It says: “No person shall bring a cattle to an animal market unless upon arrival, he has furnished a written declaration signed by the owner or his authorised agent where details of the name, address, photo identity of the owner with details of identification of the cattle would be stated.” The declaration would also have to state that “the cattle has not been brought for slaughter”.

In situations where the animal has already been sold and brought to the market, the AMC, before the animal’s removal from the market, would secure an undertaking that the animals were bought for agricultural purposes and not for slaughter. The AMC would keep a record of the name and address of the purchaser, verify that “the person is an agriculturist by seeing the relevant revenue document”, and shall secure a declaration from the purchaser that “he shall not sell the animal up to six months from the date of purchase and abide by the rules” and that he shall not sell the animal for purposes of slaughter, follow the State cattle protection laws, not sacrifice the animal for any religious purpose (here, the definition of animal has been kept ambivalent while all other sub-clauses in Clause 22 pertain to cattle and other bovine species), and shall not sell the cattle to a person outside the State without permission as per the State cattle protection or preservation laws. Five copies of the proof of sale of an animal prior to its removal from the animal market have to be provided, with one copy each to the buyer, the seller, the tehsil office of the purchaser, the veterinary officer and the AMC. Further, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Care and Maintenance of Case Property Animals) Rules, 2017, specify that “the infirmary, pinjrapole, SPCA, Animal Welfare Organisation, Gaushala”, shall, prior to giving up any animal for adoption, in the case of the cattle (cattle have been singled out) “take an undertaking in the form of an affidavit that the animals are adopted for agricultural purposes and not for slaughter”. Similar undertakings are also required for draught and pack animals. The SPCA, the gaushala or the Animal Welfare Board shall, from time to time, inspect the animal and if they find that the care is not as per the standards laid in the Act, they could take possession of the animal. Section 8 of the rules specify that additional precautions must be taken regarding animal markets in border areas, and stipulate that no animal market be organised within 25 kilometres of a State border and 50 km of an international border.

The rules also give widespread powers to inspectors to cancel the registration of an animal market if there is reason to believe that animals are treated there cruelly. However, while a lot of clauses are devoted to preventing cruelty, there are some sections that evoke curiosity about the compassionate content of the notification.

For instance, there is a clause that calls upon the member secretary to ensure that adequate provision (not specified) is made to prevent animals from escaping from the market. “Bulls may be kept together in an undivided pen if they are well secured by the head or the neck,” it says.

While the rules list protective and welfare clauses for several animals, including provisions for “lighting, bedding, covered accommodation and wholesome food”, the definition of cattle in the rules are wide and all-encompassing, including all bovine species, including buffaloes, the slaughter of which is not prohibited unlike cows. It may be recalled that at least four States and one Union Territory have no laws banning cow slaughter—Arunachal Pradesh, from where Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiran Rijiju hails; Meghalaya; Mizoram; and Nagaland, along with the Union Territory of Lakshadweep.

The draft rules were apparently placed in the public domain in January 2017 and the final notification was but a natural corollary of a process initiated months ago—that is, a process of firming up the rules for the sale and purchase of livestock in animal markets in the country. The other reasons why the notification was necessitated were some observations made by the Supreme Court on the prevention of cruelty to animals as well as the observations of a Parliamentary Committee on the same subject. The real reasons, however, were not lost on anyone as the focus of the notification was on the cow and the bovine species in general. The “politics around the cow” had been revived.

On April 29, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat reiterated his call for a national ban on cow slaughter while simultaneously uttering homilies regarding restraining cow vigilantism. Curiously, on May 30, a judge of the Rajasthan High Court declared that the cow should be made the national animal, apart from makinag problematic and unscientific assertions about the peacock and the peahen.

It was a coincidence that 54-year-old Pehlu Khan was from Haryana, where a BJP government rules, and was lynched in Rajasthan, which is also ruled by the BJP and where strong cow protection laws exist. Neither government paid his family a rupee as compensation for his murder at the hands of cow vigilantes. The All India Kisan Sabha collected Rs.14 lakh and gave it to Pehlu Khan’s family and two young men who escaped that fateful day.

In a country having the largest livestock population in the world with the bovine species accounting for the bulk of the livestock, where crores of people depend on livestock products such as dairy farming and meat, and which has lakhs of Pehlu Khans earning an honest livelihood from livestock rearing and dairy products, the Central government’s notification seems to be nothing but a product of political expediency.

With farmers and peasants already reeling under agricultural failure, the notification will likely hurt them further. According to Indiaspend, a data journalism website, 84 per cent of the States and Union Territories already have cow protection and prevention of cow slaughter laws, with some of them providing for stringent punishment extending to life imprisonment as in the case of Gujarat. That being the case, the paranoia over cattle slaughter and the rush to frame these new rules remain inexplicable.

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