The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Tuesday granted a four-week stay on the Centre’s notification banning sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter at animal markets. A division bench comprising Justices M V Muralidharan and C V Karthikeyan issued the interim order on separate petitions filed by S Selvagomathi, a resident of Madurai, and Asik Elahi Baba, who hails from Kalimangalam near Madurai. The judges said a delegated power to legislate by making rules, for carrying out the purposes of the Act, was general in nature, without laying any guidelines. “It cannot be so exercised as to bring into existence substantive rights or obligations or disabilities not contemplated by the provisions of the act,” they said.
The court said there was considerable force in the arguments advanced by senior counsel for the petitioners for granting interim relief sought. The judges were not in agreement with the Assistant Solicitor General that a presumption was in favour of the central government when a particular rule was introduced not by Parliament, but by the Executive.
The counsel for the Centre argued that the aim of the notification was to regulate animal markets. However, the court stayed the Centre’s order and issued notices to both the Centre and state government, asking them to respond in four weeks.
The petitioners said the new Regulation of Livestock Market Rules should be quashed as the provisions went against the Constitution, “breached the cardinal principle of federalism” and were contrary to the parent legislation — Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. The right to choice of food (non-vegetarian or vegetarian) is part of the right to personal liberty and conscience and privacy, they said. The petition filed by Selvagomathi said the Centre’s notification was “against the fundamental rights of citizens, and the right to food and its choice is a fundamental right.”
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The petitioners contended that since the notification was related to food, it should have been approved by Parliament. “The slaughtering of animals for food, the food… made out of such animal flesh and offering sacrifice of animals are part of the cultural identity of most communities in India, protected under the Constitution,” said the petitioners.
They said the rules were a burdensome interference in the freedom of trade and business guaranteed under the Constitution. Calling the order “unreasonable and unconstitutional”, they said the government notification would cause “severe food scarcity and famine since there is no alternative, adequate quantity of food provided by the state.”
On Monday, West Bengal Chief Minister said her government would “not accept this order” and would “challenge it legally and constitutionally”. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has also opposed the ban and appealed to his counterparts in all other states to object to the “covert attempt to usurp the powers of the state legislature in the guise of rules under a Central Act.” According to the Regulation of Livestock Market Rules, notified under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act last week, “…no person shall bring a cattle to an animal market unless upon arrival he has furnished a written declaration signed by the owner of the cattle or his duly authorised agent… stating that the cattle has not been brought to the market for sale for slaughter”.
Another provision states that “…where an animal has been sold and before its removal from the animal market, the Animal Market Committee (to be formed in every district) shall… take an undertaking that the animals are brought for agriculture purposes and not for slaughter”. The rules also require the Animal Market Committee to ensure that the buyer of cattle does not further sell the animals for slaughter.
— With PTI