This Article is From Jun 01, 2017

Modi Leaves It To Trolls To Defend Cattle Ban

The comedian Hassan Minhaj at the 2017 White House Correspondent's Dinner earlier this year succinctly remarked that in a pre-Trump America, the words "anything is possible" used to have a positive connotation. Aspirations, hopes, pushing one's boundaries - all of these immediately sprang to mind. Alas, no longer. The advent of Donald Trump has instilled a sense of chill into the political and socio-cultural spine of the United States. Outright lies; executive orders which blatantly flout the law; the discussion of state secrets in public at a private resort - with each new day dawns the possibility of yet another new violation of everything that the establishment holds sacred.

Recent events in India evoke exactly Minhaj's sentiments. Each new day brings a fear of what next? Vigilante mobs killing innocents on the mere suspicion of possessing beef. Impoverished dairy farmers lynched by gau-rakshaks in broad daylight. And the latest - Gazette Notification 396 of May 23, 2017 introducing the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets Rules) 2017.

So what exactly do these new rules say? Section 22 of the Rules imposes a set of "restrictions" on the sale of cattle requiring a written declaration from the seller explicitly stating that "cattle have not been brought to the market for sale for slaughter", and another matching undertaking from the buyer saying "the animal is being bought for agricultural purposes and not slaughter". The rules define cattle to mean 'cow, calf, bull, bullock, buffalo, heifer, steer and camel.' The Animal Markets Committee will further keep records of the cattle to ensure that they are not re-sold within six months of purchase. Further, slaughter houses can only buy cattle directly from farmers/owners subject to stringent regulations and not source from animal markets or aggregators.

It is important here to reiterate one undisputable fact - that agriculturalists and dairy farmers in India rely solely on animal markets to sell non-milch and ageing cattle for which they have no further use, can no longer afford to feed, and most important, need to sell in order to buy new, younger cattle to keep their business cycle moving. The Rs 1 lakh crore meat and allied industries depend on slaughter houses which today source almost 90% of meat from animal markets. Only about 10% is sourced via the less efficient, direct route, which means farmers cannot sell to the highest bidder at a market auction, and have to  instead accept throwaway prices from abattoirs. By equating "slaughter" with "cruelty", and criminalising the act of transporting and trading in animals at markets as an "act of cruelty", the centre has effectively enforced a nationwide ban  on the slaughter of cows and buffaloes, and hence on the consumption of beef.

For those of us who still believe in the letter and spirit of our constitution, it is imperative that we analyse the stark illegality and impropriety that underlines this notification.

First: blatant contravention of federalism by encroaching on a state subject: Article 246 of the constitution gives states exclusive powers to legislate on issues enumerated in List II of the Seventh Schedule. Laws on cattle slaughter are outside the legislative competence of parliament, since the preservation, protection and improvement of livestock is covered under Entry 15 of List II. Entry 28 gives the power to state governments to make laws relating to local markets and fairs including cattle markets. Entry 16 of the same list deals with intra-state trade and commerce. There is no specific rule-making power vested in the central government to regulate animal markets much less via this circuitous and illegal enactment of rules under preventing animal cruelty.

Second: Ultra vires the Prevention of Cruelty Act (PCA), 1960 - The Rules are beyond the authority of the parent legislation, the PCA, which does not prohibit slaughter of animals for human consumption. In fact, Section 11(3) (e) of the PCA makes an explicit exemption by stating "nothing in this section (treating animals cruelly) will apply to the destruction of any animal as food for mankind unless accompanied by the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering." Accordingly, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughter House) Rules, 2001 lay down detailed guidelines on slaughtering animals with minimum pain or suffering.  If the intent of the Rules is indeed to regulate animal welfare, limiting it to only cattle defies logic. The PCA legislates for all animals, indeed "any living creature other than a human being."

Third: Violation of Fundamental Rights - These Rules constitute a direct interference with the cattle seller and buyer's fundamental right to trade, as guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g). 

In addition, the restrictions severely impact the choice of food for millions in India, an inextricable component of the Right to Life under Article 21.

The government's explanation? Sorry, none seems forthcoming. At least not from usually voluble ministers and BJP spokespersons who feebly attempt to use directions under an order of the Supreme Court dated July, 2016, and the findings of a parliamentary panel to justify what they shamelessly call a "non-ban". Even the most cursory reading of the aforementioned order in Gauri Maulekhi vs. Union of India makes it clear that the petition sought only the prevention of export or trafficking of animals to Nepal in the wake of the large-scale ritualistic slaughter of buffaloes during the Gadhimai festival. Another reason cited, the 53-page 2015 parliamentary panel report, contains nothing even remotely connected to banning cattle slaughter. It only states that illegal cattle smuggling on the Indo-Bangla border needs to be curbed and recommends cattle markets be at a minimum distance of 15 kms from the border.

Modi-ji and his government seem to have left it to the ever-increasing army of BJP trolls to defend the issue in a post-truth world where the fog of hate clouds fact and legality. Attempting to further Hindutva via a back-door beef ban using an illegal set of Rules that are Ultra vires the parent legislation, outside the legislative competence of the centre aside from being grossly unconstitutional - anything it seems, really is possible.

(Mahua Moitra is a member of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly and General Secretary of the West Bengal Trinamool Congress.)

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