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Govt may revise new rules on cattle sale for slaughter as protests grow

LiveMint logoLiveMint 29-05-2017 Mayank Aggarwal

New Delhi: Will the centre, under fire from several quarters, blink? The buzz is that the Union environment ministry may revise the new cattle trade rules, taking buffaloes out of the definition of cattle, amid protests by opposition-ruled states like West Bengal and Kerala.

A final decision to revise or not to revise the rules will only be taken once Prime Minister Narendra Modi gets back from his six-day visit to four nations—Germany, Spain, Russia and France. If the rules are revised, it will be a big relief for the buffalo meat export industry.

Last week, the ministry of environment notified the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017, tightening trade in livestock and transport of cattle to ensure their welfare at animal markets and also prevent smuggling.

The rules banned trading in cattle for slaughter at animal markets. The rules included buffaloes in their definition of cattle, raising concerns that they will jeopardize the buffalo meat export business as the supply chain of spent buffaloes will be disrupted.

Cattle, as per the notification, include “bulls, bullocks, cows, buffaloes, steers, heifers and calves and camels”.

According to regional media reports, the Kerala high court on Monday asked the central government to submit an explanation by Wednesday on the controversial new norms on cattle slaughter. The court’s direction came during the preliminary hearing of multiple petitions filed by political activists and meat traders who questioned the curbs on grounds of personal liberty and infringement on the state’s legislative powers, among others.

The environment ministry has already received several representations against the new rules and in a bid to pacify protestors, it said the petitions will be examined.

“We are still getting representations. Once all representations are received, they will be duly considered,” said a senior environment ministry official, requesting anonymity. The official said a final call on it will be taken at the highest level—by the Prime Minister.

Members of the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association (AIMLEA), which is the trade lobby group of buffalo meat exporters, said they had met the environment minister Harsh Vardhan.

“On Monday, a representation was also given to environment ministry asking them to remove buffaloes from the definition of cattle. We also explained that trade has nothing to do with animal cruelty and that they are completely different (issues). If we will not change this, it will prevent farmers from rearing buffaloes and will also affect the dairy industry in the long run,” said Fauzan Alavi, spokesperson for the AIMLEA.

Alavi said the environment minister assured the group that a final decision on the issue will be taken once the PM is back from his foreign visit. Harsh Vardhan left for Berlin on Sunday to be in the city for Modi’s Germany visit.

Opposition parties, meanwhile, threatened to take the legal route against the rules.

The opposition attack was led by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who on Monday said she will defy the ban on sale of cows and buffaloes for slaughter and challenge it legally to protect the interests of cattle farmers and others dependent on the trade for a living.

“It is unconstitutional, undemocratic and unethical,” Banerjee said, adding that the new rules had been decided “unilaterally” by the centre.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday wrote a letter to his counterparts in other states on the issue, asking them to object to the restrictions imposed by the centre on the grounds of alleged violation of federal powers.

The notification issued by Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)-led central government is “a covert attempt to usurp the powers of state legislatures,” he said in the letter.

Though environment ministry on Saturday came out with a statement defending the move claiming the rules were formed on the directions of the Supreme Court and after full consultation with stakeholders, the protest has spread in several southern states.

In Bengaluru, the police denied permission to hold a beef fest, titled “Mooment Bengaluru” whose organizers mainly included student wings of various organizations. The Students Federation of India (SFI) and Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) had organized the event opposite Town Hall in Bengaluru to protest against the ban of sale of cattle for slaughter.

On Sunday, a calf was allegedly publicly butchered by some youth Congress activists in Kannur in Kerala to protest against the rules.

Reports have also said that DMK’s working president M.K. Stalin will lead a protest in Chennai, Tamil Nadu against the new rules on 31 May.

With inputs from Madhurima Nandy, Arkamoy Dutta Majumdar and Sharan Poovanna and M.K. Nidheesh.

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