On 27 May 2017, the Ministry of Environment and Forests issued a notification banning the purchase and sale of cattle for the purpose of slaughter at cattle markets. The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court has granted a four-week stay order on the implementation of these laws. Animal rights activists have opposed the stay and a review hearing has been scheduled for 15 June.
Even before they have been enforced, the new rules governing cattle markets have sparked uncertainty, protests and violence.
The outcome of the hearing will affect the lives of thousands of cattle owners and farmers across India. Before the gavel strikes three times, let’s examine the new rules, through the lens of cattle markets in Tamil Nadu.
What Rules Govern A Cattle Market?
A cattle market is a large, open area, where farmers and animal keepers gather to buy and sell cattle. These are usually weekly affairs.
Cattle markets in India pre-date the existence of currency. Almost all cattle markets across the country are decades, if not centuries, old. The cattle market at Vadipatti, near Madurai, is relatively new. It is a little over 112 years old.
While there are no legal provisions or laws that govern cattle markets, they all follow strict codes of business, and are more or less self-policed. However, a rise in the smuggling of cattle across borders, both state and international, has given rise to the need for new rules.
Who Passed the New Laws for Cattle Markets in India?
The new rules were brought into effect by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF), in response to a 13 July 2015 Supreme Court order. The SC ordered that guidelines be framed to prevent animals from being smuggled out of India for Nepal’s Gadhimai Festival, which involves large-scale animal sacrifices.
The guidelines were also aimed at eliminating the dependence on middlemen, while also stressing on preventing cruelty to animals.
Why The Ministry of Environment and Forests?
All matters pertaining to livestock and animal husbandry fall under the ambit of the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairy and Fisheries and the Ministry of Agriculture. Any amendment to the rules or laws therein fall under the purview of the state (with a cabinet minister and two State Ministers), and not the Centre.
The new rules have been framed by the Union Government, by invoking the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, which aims to protect all animals against cruelty.
Another similar instance, of the MoEF amending the rules of livestock – which is a state subject – was the notification issued on 11 July 2011. In the notification, the ministry included the Bull in the list of animals (bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers and lions) that would be protected from being exhibited or trained as performing animals.
It was through this notification that Jallikattu, and other sports involving animals were banned.
Why Are The Cattle Rules Being Called a ‘Beef Ban’?
The new rules do NOT mention a ban on slaughter or consumption of beef. The misconception has been brought about by a lack of understanding of the notification, coupled with agenda-based politics.
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, Sooraj, 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 will create 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 because there is no quality check on the meat that is consumed in cities.
A ban on sale of cows for slaughter at the cattle market is bound to restrict the supply of beef for local consumption.
How Will The Rules Affect Farmers & Cattle Traders?
Cattle markets across the country have reported a dip in business since the notification was issued. The Kannapuram cattle market, near Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur, is over 1,100 years old. Usually, the market sees business of around Rs 11 lakh per weekly session. However, in the first week of June, the market reported less than Rs 4 lakh worth of business.
In an agrarian economy like India’s, cattle is akin to an investment for farmers. They can tide agrarian workers over during financial crisis, help pay off marriage expenses, tuition fees, and serve as a source of respite during drought, to name a few financial problems.
However, the proposed rules have made the once prized possessions worthless. Today, it has become almost impossible for a farmer to sell his cattle outside of the cattle market. Adding to these problems is the fact that those in possession of cattle are perceived as criminals by self-appointed cow vigilantes or animal rights activists.
Will The Rules Impact India’s Beef Exports?
The proposed rules will have no impact on the beef export industry.
India is the world leader in beef exports. Beef, in this case, is not cow meat, but buffalo meat, which is also referred to as 'carabeef'.
Between April 2016-2017, India exported over 11.92 lakh tonnes of beef, valued at Rs 23.646 crore.
According to data from Export Genius, in 2016, India accounted for registered beef export value of US$ 3,680 million of the world’s total output (US$ 19,886 million). India has generated US$ 931 million from its meat export market during the first quarter of 2017. During this period, it has maintained constant sales in this period with revenue value of 31.64 percent, 35.27 percent and 33.09 percent in January, February and March respectively.
Cow meat is strictly prohibited in India, and officially, there is no export of cow meat. However, the figures are contradictory.
Clearly, there is a huge discrepancy between the amount of beef we export vis-a-vis India’s buffalo population.
Through conversations with cattle owners, animal rights activists and middlemen, The Quint has gleaned the following trends in the slaughter market:
1. India exports a large quantity of ‘undeclared’ cow meat, along with buffalo meat – the exact quantity can not be determined.
2. All of the beef that is exported is raw and de-boned. In this form, cow meat is indistinguishable from buffalo meat. It is only through a lab test that the source of the meat can be verified.
3. Jersey and Holstein Friesian are the two high milk yielding foreign cow breeds whose numbers are growing exponentially in India. They are both prone to diseases and have a very short life/usability span. The males of the species are typically sterile.
4. Barren cows and male calves are illegally sold for slaughter. Calf meat is typically mixed with mutton for local consumption. Incidentally, this has been the norm among farmers for generations now.
5. There are also no religious injunctions against selling off barren cattle, among cattle owners. Even in terms of gross economics, it has never been a feasible option to care for barren cattle, nor was its sale looked down upon.
What Are The Rules Again?
“Cattle” means a bovine animal including bulls, bullocks, cows, buffalos, steers, heifers and calves and includes camelsDefinition of cattle, from the Ministry of Environment and Forests notification dated 23 May 2017
Here is the notification, in brief:
1. Animals cannot be bought or sold at the cattle market for slaughter. Cattle for slaughter may be sold from the farmer’s home.
2. No animal markets can be situated within 25 miles of a state border, and 50 miles of an International Border.
3. Both buyer and seller will need to give it in writing, that they intend to buy/sell cattle only for agricultural purposes. They will also need to give proof of their status as agriculturists, by furnishing details of the land they own.
4. A committee shall be formed to oversee all proceedings at the cattle markets and verify that the purchaser is an agriculturist by checking the relevant revenue documents.
5. Provisions for food, water, sanitation, shelter, ramps and veterinary assistance for the animals must be made.
6. The veterinary inspector, who is a part of the Animal Market Committee, is granted full power to euthanise any animal he deems unfit for sale. The carcass of the euthanised animal should then be incinerated.
7. Cattle cannot be tied with nose ropes, or two ropes.
8. Cattle cannot be decorated in any manner. Horns cannot be painted. (whether this pertains ONLY to the market, or in general, is unclear).
What Exactly do These Rules Hope to Achieve?
The rules are aimed at putting an end to the cruelty meted out to cattle that is sold for slaughter. Some of these animals are made to stand for hours on end, in transport vehicles, without water or rest. Chillies and other irritants are rubbed into their eyes in order to keep them alert and standing. They are made to stand because sitting down puts them at the risk of being stomped to death by the other animals during transit.
The MoEF rules are also aimed at eradicating the need for middlemen for the sale and purchase of sale of cattle for meat. The rules seek to make the farmers and cattle owners accountable for the sale instead.
Did We Not Have Rules to Protect Animals from Cruelty Before this Notification?
Transport of Animals Rules, 1978, has an entire chapter (Chapter IV) dedicated to Transport of Cattle. The rules, which have over 30 pointers, detail strict guidelines for the transportation of cattle via rail and road. The presence of a veterinarian was deemed mandatory. Each animal was to be provided a minimum of two square metres of space. Pregnant cows were to be cordoned off or placed away from the other animals, to avoid being trampled upon.
Basically, the ‘78 Act already serves the purpose of the proposed rules. The implementation is where the issue rises. The Animal Welfare Board, which is referred to as the 'State Board' in the new notification, has been made responsible for the implementation of these rules, and much more. But thus far, the AWB has proved toothless and corrupt. Over the years, the AWB has tied up with numerous animal activists and NGOs and have named them associate organisations. However, most of these NGOs are urban, and have little or no knowledge of the dynamics of cattle trade in the state.
Do These Rules Serve the Purpose?
One of the rules in the notification mentions that the horns of cattle cannot be painted, decorated or shaved. The rules make it illegal for the bull to be used in traditional rituals and celebrations.
Another rule specifies that cattle cannot be led into the market using the nose rope. Also that two ropes cannot be used to tie a single animal. Nose ropes are tied typically for bulls and not for cows. They are a part of the conditioning that cattle go through, in order to use them as beasts of burden, or for farming, or for other agricultural activities. To consider this an act of 'cruelty', makes the agrarian way of life itself circumspect.
Not all types of cattle are docile. Many breeds, such as the Kangeyam, Jallikattu and Kollimalai are semi-wild, and require two or three men to control and guide. This cannot be done with a single rope, that too in the absence of the nose rope.
Will Buffaloes be Exempt from the New Rules?
This is possible. Buffalo meat is one of India's largest exports. Most of the buffalo meat sourced for slaughter is sourced from middlemen, who purchase buffaloes from the different cattle markets, and transport them to factories and companies across the country, to be processed and shipped.
Since these laws are aimed directly at middlemen, it will result in the collapse of the economic conveyor belt that begins with the cattle owner, stops at the exporter, and is greased all the way through by the middlemen.
Have Farmers, Traders Been Consulted On The Rules?
The new rules have been drawn without any stakeholder consultation. No farmer, cattle owner, buyer or seller has been taken into account before formulating these rules. This is evident from how impractical the rules are.
According to IndiaSpend data, the percentage of farmers in India has gone down by 10 percent in the last 50 years. During the same period, the number of farm labourers who don’t own land has risen by 30 percent.
Most cattle owners, therefore, do not own land. It is leased to them to farm on. Each year, they take a portion of the produce and profits. To ask them for proof of ownership of land, in order to ascertain that they are not middlemen, is to eliminate them from the markets.
It is impossible to sell or buy cattle anywhere other than at the cattle markets. It is akin to asking a producer to remove his product from a supermarket, and take it home, where a buyer might find him and purchase his products.