An Environment Ministry notification of 23 May banned the sale of cattle for slaughter under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. The ministry has allowed cattle trade only among farmland owners for the purpose of farming. The special section for cattle trade instructs to “take an undertaking that the animals are bought for agriculture purposes and not for slaughter.”
Legalising Cattle Ban
There is nothing unprecedented in the BJP-led Central government bringing in such a blanket ban on the slaughter of bovine animals. It has, in fact, finally found a legal way to materialise a long-pending agenda of Hindu political groups that have been demanding prohibition of cow slaughter along with other bovine animals. However, it was always done in the name of cow protection.
Even during the constituent assembly debates in 1949-50, efforts were made by the proponents of cow protection to not only ban cow slaughter completely, but also widen the category of protected animals irrespective of their age and usability in agricultural production. Besides, it was demanded that a uniform law should be adopted in this regard.
Role of States
After many rounds of debate, provisions related to the preservation of cow were added to the Directive Principles of State Policy. Rather than imposing a uniform law, the state governments were made responsible for regulating prohibition according to the regional cultural traditions, occupational requirements and most importantly, the economic viability of such a ban.
The Indian Cattle Prevention Bill presented by Seth Govind Das in the Lok Sabha in 1955 is a good example. The Bill – which in effect sought to prohibit the slaughter of cows, calves and other milch and drought cattle completely – was rejected by the House because its subject matter was in the exclusive sphere of state legislatures.
This Bill was criticised by most Parliamentarians who argued that the matter of preservation of cattle (including cow and other bovine animals) should be discussed purely on economic grounds and the approach should be constructive. A year later, the Animal Husbandry wing of the Agriculture and the Animal Husbandry Department arrived at the same conclusion.
Supreme Court on Blanket Ban
The first two Five Year Plans also rejected the proposal for total ban on cow slaughter as well as other bovine animals. In fact, referring to the possible added burden on economy, the Planning Commission argued that the state governments should take a realistic view of the fodder resources available in the country.
A Supreme Court judgement in the famous Hanif Qureshi & Others vs The State of Bihar, 1958 case, which has been a landmark in the adaptation of cow preservation legislations by Indian states, also invalidates a blanket ban on the slaughter of all bovine animals purely on economic grounds.
The court argued that a total ban on the slaughter of she-buffaloes, bulls and bullocks (cattle or buffalo) after they ceased to be capable of yielding milk or of breeding or working as drought animals could not be supported as reasonable in the interest of general public.
Curbing Economic Liberty
Even the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, which is used as a source to put such a ban on the sale and purchase of animals, does not enforce any restriction on the slaughter of animals. The purpose of this Act is to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on animals.
It only prescribes general guidelines for careful handling of animals even during the process of slaughtering. In fact, the Act says that “Nothing contained in this Act shall render it an offence to kill any animal (in general) and in a manner required by the religion of any community.”
It is clear that the current notification completely ignores the legal-constitutional provisions and procedures related to the preservation of cow and other bovine animals that have evolved in the last six decades. It is in direct contravention to the liberty of states granted by the Constitution to take independent and context-specific decisions.
The notification affects the states’ economic liberty, which completely depends on the resources available and the nature of workforce and employment of their subjects. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s comment that the Centre’s decision amounts to an “intrusion” into the rights of the states echoes this limitation of the notification.
Right to Choose an Occupation
In the wake of current restrictions on meat shops and slaughterhouses in UP, the Centre has attacked the backbone of the meat industry. It is a fact that even after earning huge profits from the domestic and export market, there is no provision for rearing of animals – specifically for meat production in India.
Useless and old animals or those abandoned by farmers have been the main source of the meat industry. By restricting the scope of “animal markets” only to trading of cattle “bought for agricultural purposes and not for slaughter”, the notification completely restraints farmers from selling their useless cattle, butchers from slaughtering and traders involved in the supply of animals to slaughterhouses.
The notification, therefore, is a direct attack on the fundamental right to occupation, granted under the Article 15 of the Constitution. Groups and communities who are involved in meat, leather and associated businesses for generations as well as of those who became a part of transporting, slaughtering, skinning, tanning and much more after the 1990s would be the possible victims of such an unprecedented ban.
The skilled labourers and traders, who were first harassed by the restrictions on meat shops in UP, followed by other states such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, without having supplementary opportunities of work and employment, will now be jobless.
This notification should, therefore, be seen in the light of the growing tendency of centralisation, which is much bigger a challenge for the Indian democracy than the simple dietary preferences and religious beliefs of different communities.
(Nazima Parveen is a PhD scholar at the School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)