The Supreme Court on Wednesday decided to hear the Centre before passing any order on a PIL challenging the Union Environment Ministry’s notification banning the sale and purchase of cattle, including cows, from animal markets for slaughter.
Issuing notice to the Centre, a bench of Justices R K Agrawal and S K Kaul said it was not inclined to pass any interim order at this stage and gave the Union of India two weeks to file its reply. The court fixed July 11 for the next hearing on the petition.
Appearing for the Centre, ASG P S Narasimha pointed out that the notification had already been stayed by the Madras High Court. He added that rules were only intended to bring in a regulatory regime on cattle trade across the country and will not be an impediment for genuine cattle traders.
Meanwhile, at a press conference called to announce the achievements of his ministry upon completion of three years of the Narendra Modi government, Union Minister for Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad said his Cabinet colleague Health Minister Harshvardhan had already made it clear that the “government is ready for a review” of the cattle control order and he had nothing more to add to it.
Prasad stressed that the “government has no desire to control anyone’s food habits”. However, “the Constitution in directive principles of state policy calls upon the state to prohibit cow slaughter” he said and added that “there is also a large section of people who revere the cow”.
“One has to strike a balance between the two” and the government will take into consideration all views, said Prasad.
On cow vigilantes, he said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had already made it clear that they will have to be dealt with firmly as per the law and face consequences of their actions.
For his part, Harsh Vardhan, speaking at a function of his ministry, said: “(Before the next Supreme Court hearing), whatever concerns that anyone has on the subject, they are being addressed and investigated in great detail and in a transparent manner. There will not be a single person in this country who might have even a little heartburn on this issue.”
The PIL petitioner, Mohammed Abdul Faheem Qureshi, a “Hyderabad-based lawyer” and president of the All India Jamiatul Quresh Action Committee — “an NGO working for the upliftment of weaker sections of society including the butchers and cattle traders of the country” — had challenged the new rules introduced under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
He claimed that these rules were “arbitrary” and “violative” of Articles 19(1)(g), right to carry on business or trade; Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty), Article 25 (right to practise and propagate one’s religion), and Article 29 (no discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste or language) of the Constitution.
He claimed that the new rule 22 (3) (iii) in the notification that “the purchaser of the cattle shall not sacrifice the animal for any religious purpose” was “contrary to the Section 28 (of the 1960 Act) which permits killing of animals for religious purposes” and thus “offend the right to freedom of religion and conscience and is arbitrary, inconsistent and outside the purview of parent act and against the freedom of religious practice to sacrifice the animals and also against the intentions of the framers of the Constitution”.
The right to practise and propagate one’s religion under Article 25 can only be restricted on the grounds of public order, morality and health or grounds enumerated under Article 25(2), only by a law made by the legislature and not by a delegated executive fiat, he argued.