A welcome move


Better sense appears to have prevailed over the NDA-government with its decision to withdraw the ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter in the animal markets. As a follow up, a fresh set of rules to replace the poorly and ill-conceived ones that were notified last year by the centre. The draft rules are now open for comments and suggestions. When the Union Ministry for Environment, Forests and Climate Change notified the rules under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act on May 23, 2017, there was concern that in the name of preventing cruelty to animals and regulating livestock markets the government was surreptitiously throttling the cattle trade and furthering the BJP’s cow protection agenda. The rules were also criticised for restricting legitimate animal trade and interfering with dietary habits. The new draft makes a welcome departure from the earlier rules, seeking to provide great relief to buyers of animals from cumbersome paperwork and procedural requirements. In fact, apart from the fears of some people that the centre was thrusting its agenda on some people, the farmers across the country were the worst hit because of curbs on the trade and movement of cattle. Even the poor farmers who are dependent on dairy farming were feeling harassed on account of preparing legal papers for movement of cattle from one place to the other. The cow vigilante groups were, unfortunately, emboldened by such rules and started preying on the cattle transporters and resorted to extortions. If the latter did not happen, they bracketed all the transporters as cattle smugglers and used violence against them. In one of the reports in Punjab and Rajasthan, it was revealed that some of these “self-styled cow vigilante groups” were gang of criminals and resorting to looting the cattle traders and transporters. Some distance-specific conditions to curb inter-state and cross-border movement of animals are to be dropped, as also rules barring animal markets within 25 km of a state border and 50 km of the international boundary. The Nomadic tribes spread all over the country were also feeling insecure and unsafe because they move bi-annually from one place to another or other states with their live-stock. The definition of ‘animal markets’ will also no more include any areas adjoining a slaughter-house, thereby removing curbs on the sale of animals in a resting place in the vicinity of a market. The draft retains good provisions in the earlier notification barring cruelty in the treatment and transport of animals. Apart from these factors, the notification last year had set off a storm, with some chief ministers strongly opposing it on the ground that regulating livestock trade was a state subject. Even assuming that the centre had jurisdiction under the law against animal cruelty to notify the rules, it was obvious that only the states could enforce them. With the Supreme Court expanding a stay granted by the Madras High Court into a nation-wide bar on the rules, and some states taking a clear stand that they would not implement the regulations, the notification was a non-starter. There was further concern whether the regulations would adversely impact poor villagers, as animal markets are predominantly in the countryside. There was an impression that under the guise of stiff regulations, the centre was making it impossible for cattle, a term that covers cows, buffalo, bulls and camels, to be slaughtered even for food, despite the PCA Act recognising explicitly that animals can be food for humans. The mutton trade, valued at thousands of crores of rupees, would have suffered a serious setback had the rules been implemented in part or in whole in the country. Any transformation from a tendency to advance pet causes to an approach based on economic and legal considerations would be a welcome change. The conception of good governance is not only about regulating human and economic activities, but also about avoiding perceptions of sectarianism.