The Centre has offered to “tweak” some of the provisions in its May 23 notification banning the sale of cattle and buffaloes meant for slaughter in animal markets, following the Supreme Court ordering a nationwide stay on its implementation. The notification, in fact, should be withdrawn because the logic on which it is based betrays ignorance of the way animal farming happens in India.
In the West, “beef cattle” farmers are distinct from “dairy cattle” farmers. The breeds are also different: The animals reared for meat are mostly Aberdeen-Angus, whereas dairy cows are Holstein-Friesian, Jersey and Brown Swiss. It may make sense in these countries, then, to have separate markets for dairy and meat animals. The Union Environment Ministry has projected its now-stayed rules on regulation of livestock markets as merely an attempt to bring about such segregation. Farmers can sell regular dairy or agricultural-use animals in markets. But those intended for slaughter will have to be taken straight from the farm to the abattoir and cannot be sold in the market.
The above reasoning is flawed because in India, the farmer who milks a buffalo till it is 8-9 years old sells the same animal for slaughter. A farmer who has 10 animals may sell one or two of them in a year. It would be too much to expect him to find a slaughterhouse, leave alone organise the supply of his spent bovines to it.
Nor would the slaughterhouse be in a position to directly source from hundreds of scattered individual farmers, each selling one or two animals a year (this is unlike in milk, where the same farmers may sell 5-10 litres each daily, making direct procurement a viable proposition for dairy plants). The institution that makes disposal of unproductive animals feasible in India is the market that brings together the sellers and the buyers. The sellers here are often traders who aggregate the animals from many farmers in a particular area, while the buyers are butchers or agents of slaughterhouses. If markets are not allowed to trade in spent cattle and buffaloes, the loss will not be just of slaughterhouses and livestock aggregators, but also of farmers.
In the absence of a mechanism for disposal of animals not yielding enough milk to justify their continued maintenance, farmers may simply let them loose. The end-result would be an increase in stray cattle populations across towns and cities; we are already seeing signs of that. Alternatively, farmers might resort to inflicting cruelty through starvation and other more explicit means — as a report in this newspaper from Punjab has captured. A worst-case scenario would be if the burden of having to maintain unproductive animals makes farmers lose interest in dairying. Surely, that’s not what this government would want.