Fifteen months before the controversial cattle trade rules were withdrawn by the Centre, questions were raised internally during the framing stage on whether the central government was “competent” to make rules under what was essentially a state subject, a Right to Information application filed by The Indian Express has revealed.
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Market) Rules, notified on May 23, 2017 banned sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets, it was later withdrawn in October 2017, and subsequently revised, after a discussion headed by a Group of Ministers headed by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari.
Between the draft and final notification stage in early 2017, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) received only 13 representations. One from the Animal Welfare Board of Uttarakhand government, and none objecting to the ‘ban on slaughter’ clause.
An RTI query filed by The Indian Express with the MoEF revealed that the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) was questioned as early as June of 2016 over its jurisdiction to draw up federal guidelines to regulate animal markets.
“… the said Rules are within the purview of State List. Further, since each State is competent to formulate rules and regulations as per their requirement for cattle, is Central Government competent to make Rules under State List?” noted a letter written to then chairman of the AWBI by joint secretary Anil Sant at MoEF’s Animal Welfare Division.
The Rules were framed following a writ petition filed in 2014, where the Supreme Court passed an order on July 13, 2015 to frame guidelines to prevent animals from being smuggled out of India for the Gandhimai Festival held in Nepal. The SC also directed that rules with regard to Livestock Market be notified. On July 12, 2016 the Supreme Court directed the Ministry to frame rules under Section 38 of the PCA Act, 1960.
Pointing to “two averments” in his June, 2016 letter, Sant asked AWBI about the need to frame another set of Rules, “which may be overlapping with Rules already in existence. This may require reconciliation,” he wrote. He asked the AWBI to “re-examine and provide comments and clarifications at an early date.”
After the final notification in May 2017, the Prime Minister’s Office received nine representations: one each from Chief Ministers of Kerala, Karnataka, and Puducherry, one each from then Governors of Kerala and Meghalaya, one from Kerala Assembly leader of opposition from the Congress party and three Members of Parliament from Revolutionary Socialist Party, Indian National Congress and National People’s Party.
Both Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan and then Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah wrote a year later that states should have been consulted while framing the rules.
Information with MoEF reveals that the controversial Rules were framed under sub-section (2)(1) of Section 38 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. However, Siddaramaiah in his letter noted that the Rules were violative of PCA Act, 1960.
Following the notification, several instances of harassment and assault by cow-protection groups were reported from various parts of the country. This prompted Kerala LOP Ramesh Chennithala to write flagging that “there will be increase in ongoing attack against minorities.”
Then Meghalaya Governor Banwarilal Purohit wrote notifying the Centre that Meghalaya Assembly had passed a resolution seeking withdrawal of the notification. “This matter may require to be looked into at the highest level and the necessity of issuing clarifications if any…” he wrote to the PMO. “If any action is desired from my end, I may kindly be advised accordingly, so remedial measures will be initiated by me.”
Inundated by representations, some criticizing its attempt to impose a nationwide ban on ideological grounds, and pointing to effects of the ban on cattle trade across the country, the Ministry noted in its reply to a representation from the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association. “Confusion has arisen since it is assumed that the present Regulation of Livestock Market Rules, 2017 imposes total ban on slaughter of cattle,” it noted.
“The idea behind notifying the said rules is not only to regulate the animal market, sale of cattle in these markets and ensuring welfare of cattle dealt in the market but also to ensure that only healthy animals are traded for agricultural purposes and to prevent smuggling of cattle across the border. The issue of sale or purchase of cattle for slaughter purpose is restricted to animal markets only.” Further, the Ministry wrote: “…had these representations been received earlier, the same would have been consolidated” at the draft Rule stage itself.