Animal farm

The new ban on cattle sale for slaughter makes for both dubious economics and politics

Shorn of its absurd legalese, there can be little denying that the recent environment ministry order making it illegal for animal traders to sell cattle, including cows, bulls, buffaloes and even camels for slaughter in animal markets, is aimed at achieving political outcomes, like consolidating the majority vote in the name of cow-protection. The latest Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules state, “No person shall bring a cattle to the animal market unless upon arrival he has furnished a written declaration signed by the owner of the cattle or his duly authorised agent…stating that the cattle has not been brought to market for sale for slaughter.” For what other purpose would a farmer sell redundant/unproductive cattle? Prior to this May 23 order, the newly-elected BJP government in Uttar Pradesh had launched a drive against “illegal” slaughter-houses in the State. Emboldened cow vigilantes have taken to routinely attacking transporters ferrying cattle. Incidents such as the lynching of a dairy farmer named Pehlu Khan in Alwar on April 1 and a former corporator in Karnataka threatening to “behead” Chief Minister Siddharamiah if he “dared” to consume beef, point to an atmosphere of fear being created around the entire trade in cattle meat.

The ban will hurt the farmer, cattle trade, meat exports and the leather industry. The cattle population in India is estimated to be around 190 million, and going by the practice of not keeping animals beyond eight or nine years of age, it accounts for about 22-23 million deaths every year. The new rules effectively limit access to buyers, particularly for small stock-keepers, who will no longer be able to sell their non-productive animals at cattle markets. A dairy farmer is now expected to feed an animal that is no longer productive, which will hurt his primary income. A large percentage of a dairy farmer’s income also comes from sale of unproductive animals. The directive will disrupt his production cycle, as farmers sell and procure cattle largely from local livestock traders or cattle markets. The other chain that is badly affected is, of course, the $ 4-billion meat export industry which has already shown a decline owing to bans of unspecified nature. The volume of livestock, especially buffalo, exports which had shown a 1.68 per cent growth between 2013-14 and 2014-15, has shown a decline by as much as 10.96 per cent in the last year (2015-16). The leather industry, local meat shops and municipality-run slaughter-houses that cater to the domestic market will be affected as well.

It is time that poverty and people rather than religious polarisation are brought back at the heart of policymaking. The Centre must contain a growing perception that the fringe elements of the Sangh parivar have assumed centre-stage. As for the gau rakshaks, it is worth keeping in mind that beef is consumed across communities, Hindus included, in States such as Kerala.

Published on May 29, 2017
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