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Cattle Trade: HUMAN RIGHTS VS ANIMAL RIGHTS, By Dr S Saraswathi, 25 July 2017 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 25 July 2017

Cattle Trade


By Dr S Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


Controversy continues to rage over the issue of cattle trade since the Union Environment Ministry issued a notification tightening the rules governing trade in livestock and transport of cattle. The order is interpreted in some circles as ban on meat eating and regulation of eating habits by an authoritarian government. But, the order does not mention about food or non-vegetarian food or even beef eating. Political intentions are attributed to this notification causing political divide over the question of cattle welfare.


The professed object of the new rules is to ensure the welfare of animals brought to the markets and prevent cattle smuggling. In effect, the notification bans holding cattle fairs for sale of cattle. The impact of the order is neither localised nor restricted in scope and works in diverse ways.


It may be felt on the livelihood of poor farmers depending on cattle rearing and trade, occupations and business of traders, businessmen and industrialists of various sizes engaged in manufacture and sale of products made out of cattle resources, employment of people engaged in production of food products using cattle parts and variety of consumers using goods made out of slaughtered cattle. Restrictions on cattle trade also directly affects the transport industry, cattle market organizations and so on.


The chain is so long that the government’s notification on cattle trade has instantaneously raised a demand all over the country for clear unambiguous rules governing the welfare of cattle population. The term “cattle” in the order includes bulls, bullocks, cows, buffaloes, steers, heifers and calves, and camels. Hence, to link this move of the government with cow-protection ideology of the BJP and its associates in the Sangh Parivar is not valid. It cannot also be read as a ban on beef eating.


Markets and fairs fall under State subject in the Constitution while prevention of cruelty to animals is in the concurrent list. Hence the Central notification has been issued by the Ministry for Environment under the law on animal welfare. The power to enforce the rules has been given to district administration.


The provocation for this extreme step having many repercussions seems to be regular large-scale smuggling of bulls to Nepal for sacrifice to Goddess Gadhimai. A writ petition came before the Supreme Court in 2014 to stop this practice on which a directive was given by the Court to the government to form an inter-ministerial committee to recommend ways of preventing cattle smuggling.


The committee appointed recommended framing of rules to regulate cattle market to permit sale of healthy cattle only for “legally authorised purposes”. Such purposes are left unsaid to be determined by respective State governments many of which still allow slaughter of cattle. 


The government order issued in May bans the sale and trade of cattle in livestock markets for slaughter and for animal sacrifice. It is not a blanket ban on cattle trade and slaughter. Licensed cattle breeding can continue as before. Buyers have to verify that sellers are agriculturists and also declare that they will not sell the cattle for six months from the date of purchase.


The notification allows only farmland owners to buy and sell cattle in animal bazaars. Setting animal markets within 25 km of a State border and within 50 km of international border is prohibited. No animal market can be organised without the approval of the District Animal Market Committee headed by a Magistrate and two representatives of government approved animal welfare groups. No animal in the list of animals included in the order can be taken   outside a State without the special approval of the State government nominee in charge of granting such permissions. Monitoring committees will be set up at State and district levels to implement rules and monitor the functioning of animal markets.


The validity of the rules, however, was challenged in many courts. The order relating to prevention of cruelty to animals was stayed for three weeks by the Madurai branch of the Madras High Court and was extended to the entire country by the Supreme Court. A fresh plea against the order in the Supreme Court is seeking clarification of the orders.


Cattle fairs are popular village festivals combining trade with various forms of entertainment in which people from different religions and castes take part. Some of these fairs attract people from far and near. There are at least seven very grand fairs held in the country.


The Sonepur cattle fair held near Patna is famous as one of the largest in Asia where horses, goats, donkeys, camels, birds, and elephants are bought and sold. Next biggest is Nargaur cattle fair held for a week near Bikaner and Jodhpur. Rajasthan is known for cattle fairs held at Pushkar, Jalawar, Kolayat and Gangapur. The biggest cattle fair in UP is held in Agra known as Bateswar Fair.


In Tamil Nadu, Tiruvannamalai Cattle Fair held during the famous Kartik festival is one of the biggest cattle market in this part. In Karnataka, the annual Ghati Subramanya Cattle Fair is known for sale of Hallikar bulls. In Kerala, weekly cattle markets and a wholesale market do a flourishing business. Cattle markets are common in villages, but not advertised. Many of these fairs, conducted during annual temple festivals to boost trade, create an impression of a religious association. They have become part of normal village life.


Additionally, cattle trade is one of the most important indigenous business enterprises in India.  No part of the carcasses of cows and buffaloes is wasted. Even the horns are used to make buttons. Inedible body organs and bones are pulverised to produce bone meals which are used as fertiliser and poultry feed. They are also used to make gelatin which is extensively used in pharmaceutical industry. India is presently a leading exporter of buffalo meat. Several East Asian and Middle East countries import India’s meat.


Within the country, Uttar Pradesh tops in buffalo meat production and consequently tops in buffalo slaughter. It ranks second in export of buffalo meat, Maharashtra taking the top rank. In 2015, the Maharashtra government banned beef and slaughter of bulls. This resulted in transport of bulls to Andhra Pradesh which shows that nothing short of all-India rules can bring about a change and lead to animal welfare that we aim at.


Human rights are now well established and humans have progressed enough to understand, honour, and protect animal rights. Still, slaughter of animals is not generally considered a sin anywhere in the world. In India, the crude practice of animal sacrifice still goes on in some temples and defended in the name of faith and tradition, and even cultural identity like Jallikattu.


In these days, any social issue is given a political colour and support and opposition are formed   mostly on the basis of political alignments. The ability to go beyond petty party politics is almost lost. The biggest threat to our democracy is the way some of our democratic institutions function.

Accommodating animal rights, while asserting constitutional, legal rights and human rights, is an indicator of social progress. ---INFA



(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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