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Is cattle ban legal?

The Centre's ban on cattle slaughter is drawing widespread criticism and protests are being held across the state. But experts point out that the matter is a prerogative of the state government.

Is cattle ban legal?
Imaging: Logesh Manickam


Even as the Central Government’s notification banning the sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets has been drawing wide spread criticism, another million-dollar question that has risen is whether the new rule framed by the Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change will stand legal scrutiny and as to why such a rule has been brought in at this stage. 

The new rules, set to come into effect within three months, have its source on January 4, 2017. The Union Environment Ministry had reportedly asked the Agriculture Ministry to explore the option of enacting a national law to prohibit slaughtering of cow, selling of beef or beef products. This had resulted in the ruling BJP taking the route based on preventing cruelty to animals since regulating animal trade is a state business, while animal welfare is a central subject. 

These rules which prohibit cattle slaughter are under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 utilising Section 37 and Section 38 of the parent Act. While Section 37 of the Act is about delegation of powers wherein the Centre may, by notification, it thinks fit to impose, be also exercisable by any state government, Section 38 gives the Centre the power to make rules to carry out the purposes of this Act. A former judge of the Madras High Court Justice K. Chandru said more than the legalities involved, the larger question revolves around as to why such a rule had been brought about at this point of time. “Though there is no ban on eating beef, the government can get away with saying the move is more a bid to regularize animal trade. But the move, like the helmet rule wherein the uniformed personnel makes his money under the garb of enforcement, has only paved way for cow vigilante groups to dominate the proceedings. It’s surprising that the Centre has come up with such a vague law in pursuance of its agenda,” the former judge said. 

Interestingly, the Supreme Court in January this year, while hearing a PIL seeking to ban nationwide cow slaughter or frame a uniform policy to protect and preserve them from being slaughtered and smuggled declined to entertain it as it was a “state subject”. The bench comprising Chief Justice JS Khehar and Justice NV Ramana had held, “One state may ban slaughter, the other may not… we will not interfere in state laws.” 

Though various states have different policies on cow slaughter, Tamil Nadu has a conditional ban. They allow cow slaughter with the condition of ‘fit for slaughter,’ meaning those cows and bulls that are unfit to breed or work. 

However, legal experts point out that as per the Directive Principles of State Policy, the State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle. This, they say clearly reveals that the onus is on the respective State to prohibit the slaughter of cows or not. 

While the Centre claims that the new rules apply only to animals which are bought and sold in the notified live stock markets and animals that are seized as case properties and these rules do not cover other areas, apprehensions are rife that the ban would soon be extended to consumption of meat also.

Protests break out, but Chief Minister wants time 

The Centre’s regulation on sale of cattle has created uproar across the country. While his counterparts in various states, including nearby Kerala and leaders of various political parties in Tamil Nadu have opposed or at least responded to the burning issue, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisamy has played it safe saying he will respond only after reading the G.O. Responding to reporters at the inaugural of the Yercaud Flower Show in Salem District, he said that full news on the ban has just reached him. “Only after I get it I can answer this question. I cannot respond to it based on newspaper reports,” he said, much to everyone’s shock. Meanwhile, protests condemning the ban broke out across western Tamil Nadu on Friday evening.

We will fight the ban: Beef merchants

The Centre’s ban on sale and purchase of cattle from animal markets for slaughter would affect thousands of families which are directly and indirectly involved in the trade, said Tamil Nadu Beef Merchants and Workers Association president, R Anbuvendan.

The trade-body met on Saturday to discuss the ramifications of the environment ministry’s notification of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017 under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The members unanimously opposed the decision citing it as an infringment upon the state’s rights – as enshrined in the  Constitution. 

“The balance in livestock production and upkeep will be lost if the restrictions on slaughter are put in place. Beef is the staple food of the poor as it is rich in protein and is cheap compared to other meat. Essentially this trade is undertaken either by Dalits or Muslims. The Chief Ministers of other states had already opposed the controversial notification, and our CM should also react considering the gravity of the issue. He should not simply bow down to the BJP. We would also take up the issue in appropriate courts and hold further meetings to chart our further course in the issue,” Anbuvendan told DTNext

“The notification is as vindictive as the Centre’s decision to prevent the conduct of jallikattu . The state swung into action following the uprising of the students, and we made jallikattu happen. We will not accept this decision either,” they added.

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