Markets, as commonly understood, are places where sellers of goods can meet prospective buyers. A livestock market, by extension, would allow sellers of cattle to find buyers. Sellers are least interested in what the buyers do with the goods — in this case, animals — so long as they get a price discovered through bidding or negotiation. It is this simple “rule of the market” that the Union Environment Ministry would be overturning by its just notified Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules.
In short, it restricts the scope of “animal markets” only to trading of cattle “bought for agricultural purposes and not for slaughter”. Thus, the buyer cannot be a butcher or a trader supplying to slaughterhouses. What is significant is that the new rules will be applicable not just to Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana and other states already having comprehensive laws banning slaughter of cattle (the cow and its progeny) and consumption of beef. They would extend to the whole of India, includes states where no such blanket prohibition exists.
Even if slaughtering continues in these states, it can only be in respect of cattle not brought to, or sourced from, a market for this purpose. Moreover, “cattle” will no longer mean just gauvansh — cows, bulls, bullocks and calves. Rather, they would also include buffaloes, whose slaughter or consumption of meat is not proscribed in any state. In other words, the Environment Ministry’s rules — through a widening of the definition of “cattle” to cover both the Bos and Bubalus genera — amount to a virtual ban on trade in all bovine animals for slaughter purposes.
One interpretation of the latest rules is that they don’t restrict abattoirs and meat-processing plants from direct sourcing of animals for slaughter. The restriction is only with regard to buffaloes (or cattle in non-ban states) bought from animal markets.
The underlying objective, it seems, is to segregate milch/agricultural purpose bovines from those intended for slaughter. The former shall be bought and sold in livestock markets; the latter would go straight from the farm to the abattoir.
But there is confusion even on that score. The reason for it is the definition of “animal market”. Under the new rules, it also includes “any lairage adjoining a market or a slaughterhouse and used in connection with it”. Most integrated abattoirs-cum-meat processing plants in India today have lairages, where the animals after transportation are first brought and rested prior to slaughter. If a lairage is also considered an “animal market”, it rules out the possibility for slaughter of even livestock sourced directly from farms.
The Indian buffalo meat industry — which does exports worth over $4 billion annually, apart from supplying raw hide to leather units that account for another $5.5 billion — says that it wasn’t consulted during the framing of the new rules. That shouldn’t surprise. What should, however, is the fact that even the dairy industry’s opinion wasn’t sought; the major cooperative and private players to whom The Indian Express spoke confirmed that they did not know of any such initiative from the Environment Ministry.
The other significant stakeholder is, of course, the farmer. Most farmers do not keep cattle beyond 8-9 years of age; it would be even less for male animals that have progressively become redundant with tractors replacing work bullocks and artificial insemination doing the job of breeding bulls. For a cattle population that has remained more or less static at 190 million, it translates into 22-23 million going out of the system every year. Some of it would be through natural death, but a significantly larger chunk is likely from slaughter.
In the case of buffaloes, annual herd replacement through slaughter is pegged at around 15 per cent or 16 million out of a total population of 108.70 million.
Much of the trading in redundant bovines — they will certainly number 25 million or more — now takes place in livestock markets and fairs scattered across the country, where farmers also have the choice to sell to multiple buyers. It remains to be seen whether replacing this system of competitive markets with “direct sourcing” from one or two large slaughterhouses would really work to the farmer’s advantage.