The blanket ban on sale and purchase of cattle at the livestock markets for the purpose of slaughter is ill-conceived and impractical. Though the Centre’s notification is ostensibly aimed at ensuring animal welfare and regulating the norms regarding treatment of cattle for slaughter, it ignores the impact on the beef trade, leather industry and agriculture. Such a sweeping measure would only embolden the ideological underpinning of cow vigilantism instead of addressing specific issues related to slaughterhouses, their hygiene and quality of meat. Understandably, the latest ban has evoked strong protests from several States, including Kerala, Bengal and Karnataka, meat traders and exporters. The leather industry, which earns $6 billion annually, will have to bear the brunt of the ban. It is an undeniable fact that most of the cattle trade for slaughter takes place through animal markets across the country. The new rules will only make it difficult for farmers to dispose of their aged cattle. As pointed out by the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters’ Association, only about 10% of the cattle for slaughter is procured directly from farmers. The outright ban will choke the supply, leading to a steep hike in meat prices. The Madras high court has stayed the notification, issued under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, and asked the State and Central government to reply to a public interest litigation filed before it in four weeks.
The ban raises two pertinent questions: Is it a violation of the spirit of federalism? Does it amount to undermining the food choice of the people? Since the management of animal markets is a State subject, the Centre’s notification, however well-intended it might be, will be viewed as usurping the rights of the States. It is also seen as regulating the food habits of people. For instance, over 70% of the population in Kerala consumes beef. So is the case with the many Northeastern States. The new restrictions are sought to be imposed by invoking the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act of 1960 that gives the Centre powers over animal welfare. According to the notification, the committees overseeing animal markets will have to take an undertaking from traders that animals are bought for agriculture purposes and not for slaughter. Instead of converting the ban decision into an ideological battleground, a pragmatic solution must be found. The Centre must review its decision and, to begin with, it must exclude buffaloes from the ban list. The regulation of livestock markets and slaughterhouses should be done in coordination with the States. More importantly, cow vigilantism must be dealt with an iron hand.