On 23rd May 2017, the Government of India brought in an amendment to the Prevention of Cruelty Act, 1960 in the form of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017.
The new ruling decrees measures such as establishment of Animal Market Committees at the District level and the local level, the authorized inspection by these committees and registration of existing animal markets. The aforementioned rules also prohibit the cruelty towards animals and safeguard their proper maintenance.
But the rule has been subject to widespread criticism due to rules 13 and 22 which are predicted to have disastrous consequences on the economic life of India.
Rule 13 prohibits trade in 'unfit animals and animals likely to give birth' and Rule 22 imposes 'restrictions on the sale of cattle' by banning sale of cattle in animal markets for the purpose of slaughter.
Such a restriction on slaughter of cattle is not only a glaring reminder of the Hindutva agenda of the current government but also, more importantly a direct threat to the livestock economy of the country.
From 2002-03, there has been a rise in the monetary contribution of animal husbandry by 5-13% in response to less productive agriculture due to erratic monsoons. This implies an increasing population dependent on animal husbandry.
Farmers often rear their cattle for milk, manure and work, and then sell their cattle when they are no longer capable of working on fields or producing milk, after which new cattle are purchased.
But with the criminalization of slaughter, the farmers cannot sell their cattle for slaughter in the animal markets. Farmers are burdened with incapacitated, old and infirm cattle with no utility in agricultural production.
The new notification also has adverse effects on dairy farming. Most of the male calves and unproductive cows are sold for slaughter. Now, the milk producer cannot get rid of unproductive cattle, they will have to be fed for the rest of her life. Hence, this will lead to the increase of cost of upkeep of cattle thus, increasing the price of milk The rules also say that "no person shall bring a cattle to an animal market" unless a written declaration is furnished "stating that the cattle has not been brought to market for sale for slaughter".
Such a ruling will have a crippling effect on the beef trade of India. India is the world's largest beef exporter (19.6%) according to the data released by US Department of Agriculture. India's buffalo meat exports have been growing at an average of 14% every year since 2011. But the new regulations pose a number of problems for this industry. Most of the cattle trade for slaughter takes place through animal markets. It is not possible for small farmers to sell their cattle to large scale slaughterhouses due to problems of transportation. Hence it is convenient for them to sell unproductive and old cattle in the nearest animal markets.
It is not possible for individual farmers to sell their spent animals for slaughter without going to the nearest animal market. This will not only result in the diminishing number of small-scale slaughterhouses but also paucity of raw materials for large scale slaughterhouses and a huge loss in revenues from beef exports.
The consequences of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017 entail several other implications. The new rulings state "no person shall bring cattle to an animal market unless upon arrival he has furnished a written declaration signed by the owner of the cattle or his duly authorized agent".
They also require registration of local animal markets to the local animal market committees. Such technicalities and paperwork might be difficult for small farmers and cattle- dealers.
The Kerala High Court received a petition naming the notification to be 'ultra vires' and 'unsustainable in law' as it 'directly affects the petitioner's right to trade under Article 19(1) (g) of the Constitution of India'.
However, the Bench observed that there was no ban on slaughtering of cattle. The rules only banned selling of cattle at animal markets. The rules did not stop one from selling cattle outside the market.
In conclusion, there can be no denial that the new cattle legislation directly violates the right to food of the citizens of India and challenges the right to livelihood of a huge number of beef traders and leather workers.
However, we must remain optimistic about the fact that this new legislation is aimed at preventing cruelty towards cattle and regulating animal markets to ensure a proper production cycle.
- Deedhiti Das