(The Quint debates the merits and demerits of the UP police invoking the National Security Act in cases of cattle smuggling. This is the View. You may read the Counterview by senior advocate Sanjay Hegde and practising Supreme Court lawyer Pranjal Kishore here.)
With UP police now invoking the NSA and Gangsters Act in cases of cattle smuggling, suspicion of a political and religious agenda is running wild and debate around people’s right to food has resurfaced like a bad penny.
Any attempt to understand the reason for such an action by the executive, surely, is irrelevant when there is a juicy explanation in the form of the very saffron costume of the chief minister.
The truth is, Yogi did not make the Gangsters Act applicable in cases of cattle smuggling. The ordinance to do so was passed by the Akhilesh Yadav government as UP Ordinance 1 of 2015 and promulgated by the Governor on 20 January 2015, following instructions of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court in the Musharraf Ali Son of Shaukat Ali Versus Uttar Pradesh State case.
Offences Under the Gangsters Act
Offences of cattle smuggling and contravention of the Uttar Pradesh Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act 1955 and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 were not the only crimes covered by this amendment, it also included crimes such as human trafficking, circulation of fake indian currency notes, sale and distribution of spurious drugs, manufacture, sale and transportation of arms and ammunition.
Offences under the Indian Forest Act and the Wildlife Protection Act were also covered under the Uttar Pradesh Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) (Amendment) Act 2015.
The necessity to pass such an order was felt by the High Court since it has long been established that there is a deep nexus between organised crime of the above kinds and safety of the citizens of India.
Stringent Laws to Curb Cow Smuggling
Smuggling of cattle ranks among the top four sources of terror funding, as was established for the first time by the UPA government in 2006. Thereafter, confessions of arrested HuJI militants after the 2008 Assam blasts left no doubt that cattle smuggling through the Indo-Bangladesh Border was a threat to national security.
The UP government complied with the 2013 High Court order by passing the ordinance in 2015 but implementation of law was something the previous regime didn’t seem to care for.
The current state government has conveyed an intent to implement the law in letter and spirit for the safety of its own people.
Implementing Court’s Order
A passionate argument that always pops up is people’s right to eat what they want, and how the present regime is intruding into the privacy of their kitchens. If this was at all true, then the blame lies with the UPA government.
The Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 and regulations framed under it lays down strict standards with respect to selling of food items – which species of animals can be slaughtered, the method, place of slaughtering and procedures for obtaining the required licenses.
The Supreme Court has hammered this law time and again, not out of any favour for the cow protection agenda or for the love of bunny rabbits, but for the health and safety of the general public. The previous regime ignored the orders; the Yogi Government intends to follow the law.
The most dramatic check on dietary habits was imposed in 1972 when the Wildlife Protection Act was brought in by the Congress government, making hunting and possession of meat of all Indian wild animals a penal offence.
An evolved society would realise that sometimes there are considerations of conservation, health, and security that take precedence over the dinner menu. The Americans relinquished several civil liberties after 9/11 to help their government combat terror, why can’t we accept minor inconveniences if that would result in an overall reduction in crime rate and help in building a responsible society?
Defusing Slaughter ‘Areas’
Protection of cows is purely incidental with respect to the prevention of cattle smuggling and illegal slaughter. In 2006, the West Bengal government had declared that 50 to 60 lakh cattle were being smuggled to Bangladesh.
Add to that the numbers that were being transported from Assam and Meghalaya (the state that refuses to regulate its cattle markets). Even these conservative government figures are alarming, considering the profit margins are so huge that the smugglers stop at nothing and state police officers and BSF jawans who come in their way are brazenly killed.
Over a hundred policemen in Uttar Pradesh alone are killed by cattle smugglers every year. There are incidents of police personnel being shot, stabbed, occasionally burnt, in most cases, just mowed over conveniently by trucks stuffed with cattle, headed towards the Indo-Bangladesh border. Sometimes, the consignments of cattle are even sourced by home-grown illegal/unlicensed slaughterhouses where even fools fear to tread.
Police patrol or CCTV cameras are simply out of the question in such pockets. The present regime has displayed an intent to defuse these organised centres of crime and the mafia involved in smuggling animals and goods.
Menace of Smuggling Across Borders
Over a crore cattle were being smuggled to Bangladesh through the border states till a couple of years ago. The numbers have fallen sharply due to steps taken to prevent inter-state smuggling of cattle in Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. The price of meat in Bangladesh has risen and innovative methods of smuggling are being adopted these days.
The West Bengal chief minister, in her recent statements, lamented the dwindling ‘export’ of cattle to Bangladesh. The export she referred to was the blatant and hideous death march of Indian cows across West Bengal, in contravention of the numerous laws of this country, not to mention, against public sentiment of the majority. All this, systematically facilitated by her own government.
Also Read: Decoded: Cattle Market Rules, ‘Beef Ban’
A few thinkers argue that if we do not dispose of cattle in the manner that we do, there will be cows everywhere and there will be no space left for humans. Therefore, one must close their eyes to smuggling/illegal slaughter, because it is akin to garbage disposal and is, in fact, a valuable social service provided by the minority.
There is no shying away from the fact that the dairy industry and milk cooperatives need to create retirement facilities for their discarded cattle. They cannot be irresponsibly palmed off to agents of neighbouring countries. Not a single Livestock Development Board or organisations such as Amul, Mother Dairy, Parag, Aanchal etc., which are the genesis of the problem, take any onus of housing or responsible disposal, even as a CSR activity. To this day, keeping dry cows and male calves is considered to be the function of religious and non-government organisations.
The burden of preventing the discarded cattle from being smuggled/illegally slaughtered squarely falls on state police alone. And heavens shall fall if they show the temerity to perform their duty effectively for once by implementing a prevailing law, mandated by the Judiciary!
(The writer is a New Delhi-based animal rights activist)
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