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29 May 2017

New cattle trade rules: All animals are equal... So why does the Centre’s PCA notification make cattle more equal than others?

Editorial, TH, MAY 29, 2017: The Centre’s move to notify new rules to regulate livestock markets under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA) is either extremely poorly thought out or much too clever for its own good. In a way, both. On the surface, the notification, which spans eight pages, reads like a general document on the regulation of the sale of all kinds of livestock bought and sold in animal markets, with some welcome prohibitions on the cruelty inflicted in the transport and treatment of animals. But parse the rules, and it is evident that cattle — a category that includes cows, buffaloes, bulls and camels — come under a slew of special restrictions which, when effected, could have an extremely serious impact on the meat and livestock industry, not to mention the livelihoods and dietary choices of millions of people. Surprisingly, only the purchase or sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets has been prohibited. This raises suspicions that the Centre has attempted to conceal, or at least soften perceptions about, an extremely controversial provision, in the guise of passing a seemingly inoffensive, even enlightened, body of rules relating to animal cruelty. The rules framed for the sale of cattle are so cumbersome — for instance, buyers must verify they are agriculturists, and sellers must furnish photo identity proof and written declarations stating that the cattle are not brought to the animal market for slaughter — that one wonders whether the objective is to surreptitiously throttle the entire cattle trade in an elaborate ream of red tape. Is the ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets intended to act indirectly as an absolute ban? Is the notification, stripped of its generalities and niceties, really about the BJP government’s pet concern, cows?
Such questions are bound to be raised given the way the rules were notified. If the main subject of the notification was the regulation of livestock markets, why was it issued by the Ministry of Environment and not the Animal Husbandry Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, which deals directly with this issue? Moreover, on what ground can the slaughter of any animal for food be prevented under the PCA, when it explicitly recognises that animals may constitute “food for mankind”? What the Act prohibits is only the “infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering” when animals are consumed as food. Such legal infirmities are bound to be challenged in court, but meanwhile the economic costs of this decision will merit a close watch. If estimates that 90% of slaughtered buffaloes are bought and sold in animal markets are correct, then the trade will be crippled. The Centre must address the concerns of the trade as well as of those who suspect the notification is a part of a Machiavellian plot to influence and curb food choices. While there is a case to retain most of the rules prohibiting the cruel treatment of animals, the ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets must go.

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