“I am completely opposed to the ban on beef slaughter,’ says Nuggehalli Jayasimha, the animal rights activist and lawyer for the petitioner on whose writ the Supreme Court passed orders resulting in last week’s notification of rules prohibiting sale of cattle, including buffaloes, for slaughter in animal markets across the country.
Jayasimha says he is only concerned about reducing the suffering of animals at and on their way to slaughterhouses. The fewer the handling points, the lesser the suffering. He acknowledges that slaughter is essential for the viability of the dairy industry and sustenance of the village economy. He would rather that people ate large animals as it would save the suffering of a large number of small ones. He says he was saddened by the sight of cattle past their prime thronging highways in Rajasthan during his recent visit there.
If cattle—whose definition the environment ministry’s rules have expanded to include buffaloes—at pashu haats, penths and melas can be sold only for agricultural purposes, how are slaughterhouses to source the animals? Jayasimha says they can procure buffaloes (or unproductive cows, calves and bulls in states where their slaughter is permitted) directly from farmers through their agents. Of course, these would need a “fitness to move certificate” issued by registered veterinarians, but they are easily available, he says. Near the animal bazaar in Pollachi in Coimbatore district, on the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border, pre-signed certificates are sold in tea shops, he says. (Not that he endorses the practice). He claims first-hand knowledge based on his experience trying to provide facilities there for the humane treatment of animals at the behest of the Council for Leather Exports. (The initiative, according to him, was aborted after cattle traders forced the local panchayat to turn his team out under threat of a trade boycott.)
Jayasimha represented Gauri Maulekhi, a trustee of women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi’s People for Animals. She filed a writ in the Supreme Court in 2014 to stop the transport of animals for the five-yearly sacrifice at a temple in Bariyapur in Nepal. Jayasimha himself is president of Humane Society International, an animal rights organisation headquartered in the United States. Maulekhi claimed in the petition that 5 lakh animals were killed at the temple over two days in 2009. The figure had declined to 35,000 in 2014 owing to “increased awareness and heightened security on the border,” she added. The next sacrifice is scheduled for 2019.
The other petition was filed by Akhil Bharat Krishi Goseva Sangh, a Wardha-based organisation whose mission is to stop animal slaughter and the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. It wanted the smuggling of cattle to Bangladesh to be stopped.
The Supreme Court bench headed by chief justice J S Khehar formed a committee under the chairmanship of the director-general of Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), the force guarding the India-Nepal Border. The other members were secretary, department of border management, director-general of foreign trade (DGFT), chairperson of the Central Board of Excise and Customs, secretary, department of animal husbandry, secretary, Animal Welfare Board of India in the environment ministry, and chief secretaries of West Bengal, Bihar, Uttarkhand and Uttar Pradesh.
The DG SSB in his recommendations to the Supreme Court sought restrictions on slaughter, but not a ban. Slaughter must be according to the 2006 food safety and standards act, he said. Rules must be framed to regulate the sale only of healthy animals for “legally authorized purposes,” his affidavit added. (This would include the licensed slaughter of buffaloes and unproductive cattle).
In the same breath, the DG SSB said the December 2010 order of the Uttarakhand government should be the model for the country. That order requires the owners to give an undertaking they are selling cattle in pashu melas only for agricultural purposes. Buyers also have to undertake not to sell the purchased cattle before six months (one crop season). But the Uttarakhand government order applies to gau vansh or cattle (that is cows, bulls and bullocks), not to buffaloes, unlike the environment ministry’s rules.
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Jayasimha says buffaloes have been included because his petition was against their smuggling to Nepal for sacrifice. The recommendations have an anti-slaughter bias. Seized unproductive animals cannot be given for slaughter. They must be “rehabilitated.” The Uttarakhand, Kanpur Goshala and Pathmeda or Kutch models are cited. Farmers should be “motivated” to give cattle past their prime to cooperative societies, instead of selling them to smugglers (which presumably includes all traders buying animals even for legal slaughter).
In return they will get a share certificate for the value of the cattle entitling them to an annual dividend or share in profits made for sale of products like panchagavya, farm yard manure, bio-pesticides and vermicompost. How sound is this proposition? “The economic viability of such a project may be researched by the relevant department before considering implementation,” the recommendations say.
Unproductive cattle could also be parked for five years on unproductive government land by rotation. The improvement in soil health is supposed to pay for the upkeep the animals. When asked why the new rules prohibit cattle from being sold and bought at animal markets for slaughter, Jayasimha said they were controlled by cattle traders who did not care for animal welfare.
But isn’t that like demonetising currency for the government’s failure to curb black money? The recommendations to the Supreme Court say that the only way to curb smuggling is to make it unattractive through stricter enforcement of rules and alternative revenue streams. But when there is no licensed export of cattle and buffaloes to Nepal and Bangladesh and there is huge demand for beef, smuggling will happen. Even within the country, if lawful slaughter is not allowed or made so difficult as to amount to a ban, the activity will go underground.
In July 2015, the Supreme Court said the recommendations should be implemented because “rival parties” are agreed that they should be accepted. In July 2016, upon being told by the environment ministry that the draft rules were ready, the Supreme Court gave three months for them to be finalised. But were the interests of farmers, meat eaters and meat exporters adequately and properly agitated by the committee that gave the recommendations?
Jayasimha says the home ministry did all the steering. While addressing Border Security Force jawans at Angrail in West Bengal, home minister Rajnath Singh had praised them for driving up the price of beef in Bangladesh by 30% due to heightened vigil against smuggling (according to a Times of India report of April 2, 2015). “You further intensify your vigil so that cattle smuggling stops completely and prices of beef in Bangladesh escalate 70 to 80 per cent more so that people of Bangladesh give up eating beef,” the report added. The committee seems to have taken the right cues.
Author is Editor at www.smartindianagriculture.com