“I am completely opposed to the ban on beef slaughter,’ says Nuggehalli Jayasimha, the animal rights activist and lawyer for the petitioner on whose writ the Supreme Court passed orders resulting in last week’s notification of rules prohibiting sale of cattle, including buffaloes, for slaughter in animal markets across the country.
The other petition was filed by Akhil Bharat Krishi Goseva Sangh, a Wardha-based organisation whose mission is to stop animal slaughter and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. It wanted the smuggling of cattle to Bangladesh to be stopped.
The Supreme Court bench headed by Justice J S Kehar formed a committee under the chairmanship of the Director-General of Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), the force guarding the India-Nepal Border. The other members were the Secretary, Department of Border Management, the Director-General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), the Chairperson of the Central Board of Excise and Customs, Secretary, Department of Animal Husbandry, Secretary, Animal Welfare Board of India in the environment ministry, and chief secretaries of West Bengal, Bihar, Uttarkhand and Uttar Pradesh.
The DG, SSB in his recommendations to the Supreme Court sought restrictions on slaughter, but not a ban. Slaughter must be according to the 2006 food safety and standards act, he said. Rules must be framed to regulate the sale only of healthy animals for “legally authorized purposes,” his affidavit added. (This would include the licensed slaughter of buffaloes and unproductive cattle).
In the same breath, the DG, SSB, said the December 2010 order of the Uttarakhand government should be the model for the country. That order requires the owners to give an undertaking they are selling cattle in pashu melas only for agricultural purposes. Buyers also have to undertake not to sell the purchased cattle before six months (one crop season). But the Uttarakhand government order applies to gau vansh or cattle (that is cows, bulls and bullocks), not to buffaloes, unlike the environment ministry’s rules.
Jayasimha says buffaloes have been included because his petition was against their smuggling to Nepal for sacrifice.
The recommendations have an anti-slaughter bias. Seized unproductive animals cannot be given for slaughter. They must be “rehabilitated.” The Uttarakhand, Kanpur Goshala and Pathmeda or Kutch models are cited. Farmers should be “motivated” to give cattle past their prime to cooperative societies, instead of selling them to smugglers (which presumably includes all traders buying animals even for legal slaughter). In return they will get a share certificate for the value of the cattle entitling them to an annual dividend or share in profits made for sale of products like panchagavya, farm yard manure, bio-pesticides and vermicompost. How sound is this proposition? “The economic viability of such a project may be researched by the relevant department before considering implementation,” the recommendations say.
Unproductive cattle could also be parked for five years on unproductive government land by rotation. The improvement in soil health is supposed to pay for the upkeep the animals.
When asked why the new rules prohibit cattle from being sold and bought at animal markets for slaughter, Jayasimha said they were controlled by cattle traders who did not care for animal welfare.
But isn’t that like demonetising currency for the government’s failure to curb black money?
The recommendations to the Supreme Court say that the only way to curb smuggling is to make it unattractive through stricter enforcement of rules and alternative revenue streams. But when there is no licensed export of cattle and buffaloes to Nepal and Bangladesh and there is huge demand for beef, smuggling will happen. Even with the country, if lawful slaughter is not allowed or made so difficult as to amount to a ban, the activity will go underground.
In July 2015, the Supreme Court said the recommendations should be implemented because “rival parties” are agreed that they should be accepted. In July 2016, upon being told by the environment ministry that the draft rules were ready, the Supreme Court gave three months for them to be finalised.
But were the interests of farmers, meat eaters and meat exporters adequately and properly agitated by the committee that gave the recommendations?
Jayasimha says the home ministry did all the steering.
While addressing Border Security Force jawans at Angrail in West Bengal, Home Minister Rajnath Singh had praised them for driving up the price of beef in Bangladesh by 30 percent due to heightened vigil against smuggling (according to a Times of India report of 2 April, 2015). “You further intensify your vigil so that cattle smuggling stops completely and prices of beef in Bangladesh escalate 70 to 80 per cent more so that people of Bangladesh give up eating beef,” the report added.
The committee seems to have taken the right cues.
(Cattle camp at Warwati in Latur district. Photo by Vivian Fernandes)