A Right to Information application filed with the Ministry of Environment and Forests revealed that the Animal Welfare Board of India was questioned as early as June 2016 over its jurisdiction to draw up federal guidelines to regulate animal markets, The Indian Express reported on Tuesday.

“… The said rules are within the purview of State List,” said a letter written in June 2016 to the chairperson of the board by Anil Sant, the joint secretary at the ministry’s Animal Welfare Division. “Further, since each state is competent to formulate rules and regulations as per their requirement for cattle, is Central government competent to make rules under State List?”

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Market) Rules was notified on May 23, 2017, banning the sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets. It was withdrawn in October, and later revised after a discussion by a group of ministers headed by Union minister Nitin Gadkari.

The rules were framed after a writ petition was filed in 2014. The Supreme Court passed an order on July 13, 2015, to frame guidelines to prevent animals from being smuggled out of India for the Gandhimai Festival held in Nepal. The top court also directed that rules with regard to livestock market be notified. On July 12, 2016, the Supreme Court directed the Ministry to frame rules under Section 38 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. However, information with the ministry showed that the rules were framed under sub-section (2)(1) of Section 38 of the Act.

Pointing to “two averments” in his letter, Sant asked the animal welfare board about the need to frame another set of rules, “which may be overlapping with rules already in existence”. “This may require reconciliation,” Sant wrote. He also asked the board to “re-examine and provide comments and clarifications at an early date.”

After the rule was notified on May 23 2017, the Prime Minister’s Office received nine representations – one each from chief ministers of Kerala, Karnataka and Puducherry, one each from then governors of Kerala and Meghalaya, one from Kerala’s leader of opposition from the Congress party and three Members of Parliament from Revolutionary Socialist Party, Indian National Congress and National People’s Party.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and then Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah wrote to the Centre that states should have been consulted while framing the rules. Siddaramaiah noted that the rules were violative of the PCA Act, 1960.

Following the notification, several instances of harassment and assault by alleged cow protection groups were reported from across the country. This prompted Kerala Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Ramesh Chennithala to flag an “increase in ongoing attack against minorities”.

Then Meghalaya Governor Banwarilal Purohit wrote to the Centre that the state had passed a resolution seeking withdrawal of the notification. “This matter may require to be looked into at the highest level and the necessity of issuing clarifications if any…” he wrote to the PMO. “If any action is desired from my end, I may kindly be advised accordingly, so remedial measures will be initiated by me.”

The ministry was inundated by representations, criticising it for attempts to impose a nationwide ban on ideological grounds, and effects of the ban on cattle trade across the country. “Confusion has arisen since it is assumed that the present Regulation of Livestock Market Rules, 2017 imposes total ban on slaughter of cattle,” the ministry said in a reply to a representation from the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association.

“The idea behind notifying the said rules is not only to regulate the animal market, sale of cattle in these markets and ensuring welfare of cattle dealt in the market but also to ensure that only healthy animals are traded for agricultural purposes and to prevent smuggling of cattle across the border,” the ministry said. “The issue of sale or purchase of cattle for slaughter purpose is restricted to animal markets only,” it said, adding that if the representations were received earlier, “the same would have been consolidated” at the draft stage itself.

Between the draft and final notification stage in early 2017, the ministry received only 13 representations – one from the Animal Welfare Board of Uttarakhand government, and none objecting to the ‘ban on slaughter’ clause.