The recent Central government’s notification on cattle slaughter ban, an issue which dates back to the time the Constitution was framed, has opened the proverbial Pandora’s Box.Prajwala Hegde (Twitter: @PrajwalaH) delves into it…
The Environment ministry’s gazette notification will impact eating habits and for some the very ‘Idea of India’. Though there are others who say it will enhance it to a new level. It will also hit the leather industry and cattle meat export.
So, what do the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Market) Rules state? “The government has banned the sale of aged cattle for slaughter at the country’s livestock markets, and imposed strict documentation requirements for any sale and purchase of bovines,” in the notification.
In short, it makes the slaughter of cattle impossible unless cattle are purchased from a farm, or a farmer. The reality is, the bulk of cattle trade happens in an open market.
The new law classifies cattle as ‘bovine animals’ which includes bulls, cows, buffaloes, steers, heifers, calves and camels.
But the notification is being seen as an indirect beef ban. This has led to protests in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and to an extent in Karnataka.
The Central government continues to insist the order is to control “the country’s unregulated animal trade”. The counter argument is that the worst hit are farmers, livestock traders and the leather and food industry.
Cow slaughter is already illegal in several states including Haryana, Delhi and Chattisgarh.
The new rules are strict. Cattle cannot be brought to the market without a written declaration that the animal will not be sold for slaughter. The buyer has to give an undertaking that animals bought are not for slaughter.
India exported 1.33 million tonnes of buffalo meat worth $4 billion in the last fiscal. According to the US Department of Agriculture, India and Brazil are the two top exporters of beef/buffalo meat.
In 2014, India toppled Brazil from the top spot. Data for 2016 put the two countries in a tie. Both have a share of nearly 20 per cent in global export of beef.
Beef stall owners in Bengaluru are of the view that when the new rules come into effect in Karnataka, they will spell disaster for them. David Anil Pierce, owner of Market Basket, Cox Town, says, “There is demand for beef across the State, especially in Bangalore and the coastal belt.”
The owner of Azmathullah Beef Stall on Hennur Road says business has slumped. “I used to sell 200kg of beef per day, now it has fallen to 50-60 kilos. But as long as we have a Congress government, I don’t think we are in trouble.”
B Mohammed Hidayatullah, owner of Fathima Beef Stall in Johnson Market, is worried. “Sales have dipped by at least 40% in recent months. We face trouble from vigilante groups while transporting cattle. We cannot even seek police protection. This is our livelihood, we don’t know any other job.”
According to the Department of Animal Husbandry annual report for 2016-17, the share of cattle meat in overall meat production is only 5 per cent in the country. Buffalo meat constitutes 23 per cent and poultry meat 46 per cent. With the new rules, buffalo meat will be clubbed with cow meat and their combined share will be 28 per cent.
Bangalore-based hotelier Amit Roy, who owns Watsons and Puma Social Club, says the restaurant segment is one of the largest consumers of beef in India and that such a notification can work only if there is proper infrastructure, planning and a support system in place.
“The government cannot pass an order without providing us with an alternative,” says Roy.
India is the world’s second-largest producer of footwear and leather garments ($13 billion last year alone). Nearly half of that was to clients abroad. The government’s notification has startled major fashion labels.
According to India Brand Foundation Equity's website, the Indian leather industry accounts for 12.93 per cent of the world's production of hides and skins.
All India Skin & Hide Tanners & Merchants Association president Rafeeq Ahmed says the short term impact will disturb supply.
“Once the confusion is over, slaughter won’t take place and leather won’t be available. The supply chain gets hit, prices will go up,” says Ahmed. “We have had a lot of cancellations. There will be a chain reaction, a very negative impact on the leather industry.”
The hides and bones of slaughtered cattle are also used to make surgical stitches, buttons, toothpaste and paintbrushes. According to reports, only a fraction of slaughtered cattle is used as meat for consumption.
On May 29, a protest was held in Town Hall, Bengaluru, by several Dalit organisations, students Islamic Organisation, All India Central Council of Trade Unions and KRRS against the Central Government’s move.
“We will not let them attack our right to food, or right to livelihood,” they said, condemning the “illegal enactment”, and demanding the withdrawal of the notification.
”The Central government is pushing the RSS agenda. Constitution is just a pretence, and ‘cow worship’ a myth. We are fighting for our right to food and shelter. Beef is a staple for poor people,” president of the Dalit SangharshaSamiti (DSS) Mavalli Shankar said.
Farmers say holding on to unproductive cattle imposes a cost on them. Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha president KodihallyChandrashekar feels the government should have consulted the farmers first.
“Won’t this further distress a farmer who is reeling under debt? It is very expensive to take care of old, infirm unproductive animals,” says Chandrashekhar. “The government should provide health/life insurance instead of using cow for the purpose of vote bank politics.”
History of cow slaughter ban in Karnataka
In 2010, the Karnataka Assembly passed the controversial cow slaughter ban Bill, which provided for stringent punishment for violators and made the offence cognisable and non-bailable. But the proposal did not become law because it did not get the President’s nod.
Then opposition leader Siddaramaiah termed the legislation "draconian", "anti-secular" and "unconstitutional". He tore a copy of the bill and threw the pieces in the air.
The Bill was to replace the Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, 1964, to prohibit the slaughter of cows and calves of she-buffaloes, bull, buffalo male or female.
In 2013, when the Congress came to power in Karnataka it reversed the previous BJP government’s decision.Today, Reacting to the Central Government’s notification, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said, “It is not binding on the State to implement the Centre’s curbs on sale of cattle for slaughter as it is a State subject.”
He added that his government will examine the Centre’s notification and then take a call.State Animal Husbandry and Sericuture minister A Manju said the government may approach the court if the Centre doesn't take a relook at the new rules.
Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee spokesperson Srikanta Murthy told Karnataka Today: "This ban won't affect Karnataka as cow slaughter is already banned here. It will only hit unauthorised abattoirs. To ask farmers to keep a record of cattle he owns or keep documents is not practical. The Centre's notification is ambiguous."
In a letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reconsider the decision to ban on the sale and purchase of cattle at animal markets for slaughter, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah wrote, "I would like to bring to your kind attention that these rules are unconstitutional and will have a far reaching negative impact on the Indian society and economy. He further said, "The absence of efforts to take the States into confidence on such an important matter hits at the very roots of federalism..."