After remaining stalled for four months, export of live goats and sheep from Tuna port on Kutch coast resumed late on Tuesday as Gujarat High Court wrapped the Customs Department on the knuckles for holding back shipping bills on the basis of representation of animal rights activists. The court cleared the decks for the resumption of exports for livestock.
Two mechanised sailing vessels or country craft departed from Tuna port late on Tuesday night with around 3500 live goats and sheep. “After we got clearance from the Deendayal Port Trust (DPT) and Customs Department, we worked overtime and loaded the livestock on two vahans (country craft) last night itself. The first vahan set sail at around 10:30 pm on Tuesday and the second at around midnight,” said the exporter who shipped the consignment.
The exporter said the export was headed for Dubai and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. “After the Gujarat High Court ruled in our favour, the Customs House, Kandla and Deendayal Port Trust officers helped us a lot. Thanks to their help, we could load the livestock overnight and ship it within hours. This is a huge relief as finally, we have been able to honour our supply commitments made to importers in the UAE,” he further said.
Controlled by the DPT, Tuna is the only port besides Mumbai port on the west coast of India from where livestock export is permitted. Exporters have been exporting live goats and ship to the Gulf region regularly for the last four decades. However, the trade had come to a grinding halt after district magistrate of Kutch ordered the suspension of movement of livestock on August 6 this year on the ground that provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 were being violated. A couple of days later, the Directorate General of Shipping had withdrawn its special permission granted to MSVs to operate during the month of August. The DM had constituted a three-member committee to look into the issue and the committee had concluded that the exporters were violating legal norms. The Kutch DM had said that she had acted on the orders of the state government, which in turn had received complaints from animal rights activists who are advocating a ban on the exporters.
But the Livestock Exporters Association, an unregistered organisation of livestock exporters of the state, had moved the Gujarat High Court challenging the Kutch DM’s order which had imposed an embargo on the movement of livestock in Tuna indefinitely. The High Court had stayed the DM’s order on September 18 and cleared the way for exports while directing exports to adhere to relevant laws. Despite the court order, initially, the traffic department of DPT had refused permission to exporters but eventually, the DPT also gave green signal to exporters on October 31, after “consulting Ministry of Shipping.”
However, when an exporter filed shipping bills with Customs House, Kandla in early November the latter had kept them pending for clearance, saying informing the exporter through a letter on November 16 that the department had received representation from animal rights organisations and that it was looking into them. The exporter, however, moved the HC on November 20, seeking direction from the Court to Customs Department to clear shipping bills for exporting livestock.
Disposing of the petition, the bench of Justices Harsha Devani and AP Thaker ruled in favour of the exporters observing the petitioner had complied with relevant laws while seeking clearance for exports. The Court also wrapped the Customs Department for keeping shipping bills clearance pending for a long time. “Though the said communication (of November 16, 2018) is expressly subject matter of challenge in the present petition, the learned advocate for the respondent No.3 is not in a position to point out as to which statutory requirement the petitioner is required to satisfy and which in fact has not been satisfied by the petitioner. All that is stated is that various representations have been received and that in the light of such representations, it is possible that the provisions of certain laws have not been followed. In the opinion of this court, if there is breach of any provision other than the provisions of the Customs Act and the Import-Export Policy, it is for the concerned authorities under those Acts to take action in respect of such breach. The customs authorities are governed by the provisions of the Customs Act and the Import-Export Policy, and are required to take action pursuant to the shipping bill filed by an exporter within the four corners of such law and the policy and restrictions provided thereunder,” the High Court bench order said.
“After the High Court ruled in our favour, we had filed shipping bills afresh on December 3. We got clearance from Customs Department on Tuesday and could resume the export,” said the exporter, adding the consignment shipped on Tuesday had been sourced from Ahmedabad and Rajasthan.
Animal rights activists have been protesting this year that goats and sheep are exported to Gulf countries for slaughter. They are also claiming that the exports are hurting the local livestock industry and families dependent on rearing goats and sheep.