The Uttarakhand High Court on Monday decided to turn into the guardian of cattle in the state, issuing 30 stringent guidelines that it said would be mandatory for the government to implement.

As they listed the guidelines, judges Rajiv Sharma and Manoj Kumar Tiwari ran out of alphabets to use. As a result, guidelines 27 to 30 are marked with double letters such as “AA” and “BB”.

n its judgement, the court invoked religious principles that seek to protect animals, quoting texts like Arthashastra and Isha Upanishad and figures such as the Buddha, Mahavira and MK Gandhi.

The first guideline reiterated in certain terms that slaughter of cattle in Uttarakhand is prohibited: “No person in the State of Uttarakhand shall slaughter cause or cause to be slaughtered, or offer, or cause to be offered for slaughter, any cow, bull, bullock, heifer or calf forthwith.”

The judgment had its origins in a petition moved by a villager who claimed that one of his neighbours was butchering cows despite a ban on this. With the consent of the petitioners, the court chose to expand the breadth of the case.

Case origins

Alim Ali, a villager in Sohalpur Gada in Haridwar, moved the High Court last year claiming that a neighbour was slaughtering cows illegally and that the blood was flowing in the streets. He submitted photographs as evidence, which the court described as a “moving picture of a cow being slaughtered in a very brutal manner, that too in an open space”.

Following this, notices were issued to government authorities. It was found that the person slaughtering the animal had a licence only to sell meat, but the permit had expired in April 2015.

When the Senior Superintendent of Police Krishna Kumar was summouned to the court, he informed the judges that at least two or three cases were being registered every fortnight under the Uttarakhand Protection of Cow Progeny Act, 2007. This the court observed was an “alarming number”.

With the consent of the parties, the court then decided to expand the scope of the petitions and went into larger issues of animal cruelty and need for protection.

Animal cruelty

The judgment quoted a number of Supreme Court precedent to drive home the point that protection of cattle was a Constitutional duty. In this, the courst cited Article 48 of the Constitution, which urges the government to take steps to prohibit the slaughter of “cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle”.

The judgment said a number of laws have been enacted for the welfare of animals. The right of animals to live with dignity has been elaborated by the Supreme Court time and again. The apex court had made it clear in 2014 that the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 encompasses the life of an animal, subject to human necessities. The directive principles, of which cattle protection is an element, is a reasonable restriction on fundamental rights.

The judgment also quoted religious figures and texts liberally. For example, it invoked Buddha, Mahavir and MK Gandhi to talk about ahimsa or the concept of non-violence. Quoting a Supreme Court verdict, the judges said “the principle of equality of all species found in Isha Upanishads is the culture and tradition of the country, particularly the States of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra”.

The court said:

“Their Lordships of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the judgment cited hereinabove have held that animal has also honour and dignity which cannot be arbitrarily deprived of and its rights and privacy have to be respected and protected from unlawful attacks. The principle of equality of all species found in Isha Upanishads is the culture and tradition of the country, particularly the States of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.”

This apart, various international documents such as those of the United Kingdom Farm Animal Welfare Council were invoked.

Stringent guidelines

Having established the necessity of protecting animals through legal and religious texts, the court then decided to put in place stringent guidelines that now have to be followed mandatorily. This was made possible by invoking the legal concept of “parens patriae”, under which the court becomes the guardian of those who cannot protect themselves.

The export of cattle for the purpose of slaughter and sale of beef or beef products is also prohibited.

The owners of any cattle which are found on the streets, roads and public places will be prosecuted, with chief engineers of all national highways in the state directed to ensure no stray cattle come on to the roads. Officials should ensure such cattle transported should not go through unnecessary pain and suffering and that the vehicles carrying them should drive at speeds of 10 to 15 km an hour. All hospitals were directed to treat stray cattle and citizens have been empowered to bring the cattle to the hospital or notify officials.

The court said all the municipal corporation, municipal bodies including zila parishads are directed to construct in their respective jurisdiction “gaushalas”/”gausadans” or shelters/homes for housing cow progeny and stray cattle within a period of one year from the date of the judgment. These shelters should be constructed in scientific manner and electricity charges shall not be levied.

Other directions include formation of special squads, clearing encroachments on cow shelters, patrolling every 24 hours to check for cow slaughtering.

Significantly, the court involved religious institutions in the work of building cow shelters. The judges said: “All the Head Gurus of all the religions including Deras are requested to assist the State in construction of gaushalas/gausadans to house cows.”

The court then reiterated provisions from several laws on the maximum load that animals could be made to pull. If the animals are made to pull loads uphill, the maximum weight should be halved. The weight should be calculated by including the weight of the vehicle.

There were also restrictions placed on making the animals work during specific times of the day. The judgment said:

“The State Government is directed to ensure that in any area where the temperature exceeds 37°C (99°F) during the period between 11.00 am and 4.00 p.m. in summers and when the temperature is below 5°C between 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. and between 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. in winter season no person is permitted to keep or cause to be kept in harness any animal used for the purpose of drawing vehicles.”

Finally, the High Court directed the state government to register cases “against persons who leave vagrant any cow progeny and free for wandering a cow after milching her”.