Faced with strong protests from states and the prospect of its new rules on regulation of animal markets being struck down by courts, the government is preparing for damage control and considering a review of last week’s notification that, among other things, banned the trading of all cattle at animal markets for the purpose of slaughtering them for meat. Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu Tuesday said that the “issues” raised by trade organisations and a few state governments were being “examined”. He was referring to the flood of representations the Environment Ministry has received in the last few days objecting to provisions in the Regulation of Livestock Market Rules.
A senior Environment Ministry official told The Indian Express that representations raised three key points. Meat traders wanted buffalo to be excluded from the purview of the new rules while some others have raised concerns over the elaborate need of permissions and licenses and red tape that is being envisaged. The third set is challenging the very constitutionality of the Centre notifying such rules when animal markets come under the purview of state governments. The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court today stayed the execution of the Centre’s notification for four weeks.
However, any review of last week’s notification would have to wait for the return of new Environment Minister Harshvardhan who took charge of the ministry following the death of Anil Madhav Dave. Harshvardhan is travelling with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his trip to Europe. While officials claim that the new rules were framed on the directions of the Supreme Court and based on reports of two committees, none of these had made any suggestion to ban the trading of cattle at animal markets for the purpose of slaughtering them.
This contentious provision was introduced by the Animal Welfare Board of India that prepared the first draft of the rules last year, the Environment Ministry official said. That draft was finalised by the Environment Ministry and released in the public domain for inviting suggestions and comments in January. The Ministry received only 13 suggestions at that time, none of which raised any major objections to any of the provisions.
The origins of the new rules to regulate animal markets lie in a 2014 petition filed in the Supreme Court by animal rights activist Gauri Maulekhi, now an officer on special duty in the office of Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi, seeking to stop the illegal smuggling of cattle to Nepal for being sacrificed in a religious ritual. A similar petition for stopping illegal smuggling of cattle to Bangladesh was clubbed together.
The scope of these petitions later widened and the Supreme Court appointed a committee under B D Sharma, the then director general of Sashastra Seema Bal which guards the India-Nepal border to make recommendations to control cattle smuggling. This committee, which had representatives of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, mostly restricted itself to suggesting ways to prevent cattle smuggling but one of its recommendations also talked about regulating animal markets.
“Rules may be framed to regulate cattle markets ensuring that healthy cattle are being sold only for legally authorised purposes,” it said. There was no mention of any ban on sale of cattle for slaughter at these markets.
A report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, which has also been mentioned in this context, was submitted only last month and could not have been the basis for finalising new animal markets rules. In any case, this report, which dealt with border security and discussed cattle smuggling in that context, only asked for putting a stop to all illegal cattle markets near international borders.