Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan, in a statement on Friday evening, clarified that the new rules framed under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to regulate cattle trade will not apply to sale outside livestock markets.

The Union Environment Ministry notified these rules on Thursday evening, prompting a strong response from the Opposition. In Kerala, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led government said it would not implement the new regulations and will go to court against it.

The rules stated that cattle, which includes cows, buffaloes, bullocks, calves and camels, cannot be sold for the purpose of slaughtering in any livestock market. The definition of markets include lairage adjoining the markets where the animals rest during the sale. All markets, including the customary village fairs, will now be regulated with a committee put in place in consultation with the district collector.

Vardhan’s clarification came after a few media houses termed the new rules a blanket ban on cattle slaughter. While Vardhan is indeed right technically when he claims that the rules have nothing to do with banning animal slaughter, a close reading makes it clear that the law makes it as hard as possible for anyone wishing to send his or her cattle to the abattoir. Meat processing units Scroll.in spoke to were of the opinion that sourcing cattle for meat will now become an almost impossible task as a complex web of bureacracy that the rules have created will eventually lead to arbitrariness in certifications at the market.

The rules impose certain restrictions on both the seller and purchaser of cattle. Though could be termed as lazy lawmaking, the restrictions imposed on the purchaser have left it open for interpretation on whether the ban on selling cattle for slaughter applies only to market places or covers sale every where.

The rules

How do the rules make sourcing cattle for meat difficult? Take Section 22. The law makes it clear that the seller has to give an undertaking to the market committee that the cattle has not been brought to the market to sell for slaughter.

Once this is obtained and the sale documents are filed, the law now moves to the purchaser of cattle. Here, three important restrictions are imposed: The purchaser can only be a farmer; the purchaser should give an undertaking that he will not sell the cattle for six months from the date of sale; he will not sell the cattle for slaughter.

The third rule is what makes the entire regulation, whose primary aim is to govern cattle trade in livestock markets, ambiguous. While it makes sense to say that the seller should not sell the the cattle for slaughter, when the same restriction is applied to a purchaser, it immediately takes the regulation outside the ambit of the market. The rules plainly say that the purchaser of the cattle shall “not sell the animal for purpose of slaughter”. Here there is no qualifying provision clearly mentioning that the restriction is only inside the market.

Once the cattle is bought and taken possession of from the market, the rules seem to suggest that it cannot be sold again for slaughter for perpetuity. In any case, such a sale is prohibited for six months and authorities have the right to inspect the cattle bought anytime during the six months.

Another aspect pointing to inefficient lawmaking is the fact that the definition clauses in the rules do not define who a seller and purchaser is. Given that these two are the main subjects of the law along with the cattle, leaving them undefined leaves the door open for disputes. Had the law defined the purchaser within the precincts of the market, this confusion wouldn’t arise. It is pertinent to note that the parent Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act also does not define who a purchaser or a seller is for these rules to borrow the definition. The main law only defines who an owner is.

Another significant restriction placed is that there should be no cattle markets in 25 km distance from the state borders and 50km from the international border. On either side of the state borders, this will cover 50 km distance. This means, thousands of villages across the country would now be unable to hold a village cattle fair.

Making slaughter difficult

Meat processing units and abattoirs Scroll.in spoke to said the new rules were “draconian” and does not take into account the crucial part the meat industry plays in the economy and in the health of the country.

Kapil Verma, who runs a meat processing unit near Delhi, said such units get the animals from suppliers, who act as middlemen between farmers and the units. The suppliers primarily source the animals from markets and village fairs. “If you say we cannot source cattle from markets, how else do we source it?” he wondered aloud.

A abattoir owner in Uttar Pradesh, requesting anonymity, said the units will now have to engage farmers to source cattle as the rules mandate animals could only be sold to agriculturists. In order to get around the problem of buying the cattle for slaughter within six months of the sale in a market, he said officials will have to be “gratified”.

“This will only increase the cost of producing meat,” he added. By prescribing extensive paperwork and giving officials the right to decide the nature of cattle sale in the market, a complex web of new cattle bureacracy has been formed. “The officials will now be all powerful,” he claimed.

Both these businessmen said cow vigilantes will have great opportunities to extort once the rules come into play. “If they manage to get even a single official on their side, which is possible given the new government in Uttar Pradesh, we would be at their mercy,” the slaughterhouse official added.