The controversy surrounding the Central government’s ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter at animal markets continues to simmer. On May 30, even as a student in Chennai was thrashed for eating beef at a protest against the ban, the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court stayed the Centre’s rule on cattle slaughter.

On Wednesday, the Kerala High Court was reported to have expressed shock at the Madras court’s stay order, observing that the Centre’s rule did not stop anyone from selling cattle for slaughter outside of animal markets, and did not impose a nationwide ban on beef consumption.

The ban on the sale of cattle – including buffaloes and camels – for slaughter at animal markets is a part of Rule 22 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017, which the Centre notified on May 23.

The genesis of these rules was in a 2014 writ petition filed in the Supreme Court by animal rights activist Gauri Maulekhi, against the cruelty involved in the rampant smuggling of Indian buffaloes into Nepal for the Gadhimai festival every five years. Subsequently, the Court clubbed this petition with another petition against illegal cattle smuggling into Bangladesh, and directed the government to set up a committee to address the smuggling problem.

The committee eventually recommended the framing of livestock market regulation rules, which include several provisions to check the cruelty towards animals during trade. One of the rules – pertaining to not selling or purchasing cattle for slaughter at animal markets – has triggered accusations that the Bharatiya Janata Party government is trying to impose an indirect ban on cattle slaughter across the country.

In the midst of the controversy, spoke to Jayasimha Nuggehalli, an animal rights activist and lawyer who represented Maulekhi in her petition against the Nepal smuggling case. As a former member of the legal subcommittee of the Animal Welfare Board of India, Nuggehalli was also involved in the initial drafting of the new regulations.

As someone who has been involved with the Nepal border smuggling case as well as the drafting of the new regulations, what do you feel about the allegations that the government is using these rules to slip in a backdoor ban on cattle slaughter across India?
People know that I am not a spokesperson for this government, and I have openly spoken out against beef bans and violence by gau raksha (cow protection vigilante) groups. But with the new regulations, for the first time in 17 years, a government has done something good for animals in this country.

Cattle markets need to be regulated, there is no doubt about that. These are comprehensive rules affecting the supply-chain of cattle meat, and it is misleading to make it seem like this is a “blanket ban” on cattle slaughter, or that it is affecting consumers’ food choice. By that logic, all food safety laws could be seen as a restriction to consumer food choice.

But the media has just been cherry-picking certain parts. Most media outlets have not even read the entire set of rules properly, and have misreported them. Even the Kerala High Court said that. And look at what this kind of misreporting has led to – a poor student got beaten up in Tamil Nadu for attending a beef festival! It is a sad state of affairs that the media in this country cannot fathom that the government could genuinely do something altruistic.

These started out as rules meant to check the illegal smuggling and animal cruelty at the borders of Nepal and Bangladesh. Why is it then necessary to make this a nationwide restriction on the sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets?
Attempting to regulate smuggling only at borders is not going to work, not when cattle are sold and resold at multiple markets with no traceability of their origins. If thousands of cattle consignments come towards a border, and there is no saying where they are from, what can border management authorities do? So many border security personnel get injured and killed while trying to stop smuggling, so many truck drivers get beaten up. These are the people that gau rakshaks attack.

When the rules were being drafted, it is the Border Security Force that asked the committee to stop the problem at the source itself. And so many other state governments that were part of the committee, including Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and others, also felt the same. The genesis of the rules may have been illegal smuggling of buffaloes into Nepal, but what is wrong with realising that the problem is much bigger, and acting on it? It has to start somewhere.

And anyway, these rules are meant to disrupt the supply-chain of cattle meant for slaughter – not the consumption of meat. Shouldn’t an industry be held responsible for its supply-chain? We are talking about the massive cattle markets where thousands of animals are brought, and where all kinds of cruelty take place. Traceability in animal supply-chain should be considered desirable, because if the middlemen are removed, and the animals are treated better, it eventually improves the quality of meat available for consumption. I’ll give back my law degree if anyone can prove that this has affected consumption in any way.

If this is the case, how come other animals like goats and sheep were not included in the regulations?
Ideally, I would have wanted them to be included, but the committee realised that it would have been logistically impossible to implement. There are far too many people involved in the sale and slaughter of goats and sheep in small numbers. It is a pastoral industry, with no big sheep or goat-rearing farms. There are local mutton shops on every street corner.

“Perfect” should not become the enemy of “good”.

A large part of the protests against the regulations is that they will affect livelihoods of a lot of farmers. There is concern about whether farmers will get a fair price for cattle under the new rules. Were any farmers or their unions present at any of the meetings of the committee that drafted the rules?

I am not sure of whether farmers’ groups were invited to give recommendations to the committee drafting the rules, but the draft rules were put out for public comments and suggestions before they were notified.

With respect to fair price, I think the market forces will act. The state governments have mechanisms of dissemination of various price points. Dairy cooperatives can also play a role as most of these cattle are spent animals who are of no economic value to the dairy industry.