Cattle trade: Return to common sense

While the slaughter of cows is banned in most states, the 2017 rules banned the trade of all cattle, including bulls, buffaloes and camels in animal markets, if these were meant for slaughter. (DH file photo)

The government has done well to reverse last year’s controversial ban on the sale and purchase of cattle in animal markets. It is a victory of common sense and realism over wrong ideas about cow protection and shows that sooner or later, good economics prevails over bad politics. The rules notified under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act in May 2017 were ill-conceived and are now sought to be replaced with draft rules that do away with the clause restricting the sale of cattle. The new rules are now open for comments and suggestions from the public, but there can be no return to the old rules. While the slaughter of cows is banned in most states, the 2017 rules banned the trade of all cattle, including bulls, buffaloes and camels in animal markets, if these were meant for slaughter. An undertaking that the cattle were not for slaughter had to be made and this, in effect, killed the trade in cattle. The explanation that there was no bar on sale by the farmer as such did not help because the way the cattle business worked in the country, the rules could only have made commercial cattle trade almost impossible.

The rules were not on the right side of the law, either. The Madras High Court stayed them and the Supreme Court extended the stay to the whole country. The Centre had actually resorted to some deception by notifying the rules under the law for prevention of cruelty to animals as it had no power to regulate cattle trade, which is a state subject. The states opposed the rules on substantive grounds and for violation of their jurisdiction. Culling of cattle is a part of the cattle economy. It is estimated that the ban would have forced farmers to look after 15 million more cattle, and this would have broken the economies of individual farmers and the larger agricultural economy. Many farmers would have abandoned their cattle, creating another set of problems. The ban would have resulted in greater cruelty to cattle in many ways. The buffalo meat exports from the country would also have been badly hit. 

The new rules do not define cattle and keep buffaloes and camels out of their purview. There is no mention of slaughter, which means there is no ban on it. There are no restrictions on trade in animal markets, too. Some other restrictions have also been removed. All this should help to give a boost to cattle trade and improve farmers’ incomes. In all this, there is also a message about the dangers of taking the love of cow too far. 

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