image courtesy:Free Press Journal

The Supreme Court on Thursday issued notice to the Centre over the notification banning sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter at animal markets across the country after a PIL was filed by a Hyderabad-based NGO.

Petitioner Mohammed Abdul Faheem Qureshi, who moved the top court on June 7, 2017 has challenged the notification, saying it violates the right to free trade.

He has also claimed the rules violate his Constitutional rights to practise any profession or to carry on any occupation, protection of life and personal liberty, freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion and protection of interests of minorities.

On June 7, the vacation bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice Deepak Gupta had directed the listing of the matter on June 15 after counsel Sanobar Ali Qureshi, appearing for the Hyderabad-based petitioner had mentioned the matter urging for an early hearing.

The court also asked the Centre to file its response in two weeks and posted the matter for hearing on July 11, 2017.The NGO had asked for a stay on the government’s notification that effectively bans the sale of cattle for slaughter but a vacation bench comprising Justices R K Agrawal and S K Kaul stated that it would only give a response after hearing the Centre’s stand.

During the brief hearing, Additional Solicitor General P S Narasimha, representing the Centre, told that bench that the intention behind coming out with the notification was to have some kind of a regulatory regime.

“The intention was to bring in existence some kind of a regulatory regime for cattle trade,” he told the bench.

He said the notification would also check irregularities in cattle markets and it would not have any impediment on the genuine cattle traders across the country.

When one of the petitioners requested the bench to stay the notification, Narasimha said the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court has already granted an interim stay on it and it would not be enforced as of now.

Cattle slaughter is a controversial topic in India because of the cattle’s traditional status as an endeared and respected living being to many in  Hinduism,the largest religion in India, and also in other Indian religions, in contrast to cattle being considered as an acceptable source of meat by many Muslims,Christians and also some lower-caste Hindus.

More specifically, the cow’s slaughter is shunned because of a number of reasons such as being associated with god Krishna in Hinduism, as well as respected as an integral part of rural livelihoods for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists.

Historically, cattle slaughter has also been opposed by various Indian religions because of the ethical principle of Ahimsa (non-violence) and the belief in the unity of all life.

Article 48 of the Constitution of India mandates the state to prohibit the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.

On October 26, 2005, the Supreme Court of India,in a landmark judgement upheld the constitutional validity of anti-cow slaughter laws enacted by different state governments in India.24 out of 29 states in India currently have various regulations prohibiting either the slaughter or sale of cows.

Kerala, West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim are the states where there are no restrictions on cow slaughter

On 26 May 2017, the Ministry of Environment of Indian Central Government led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) imposed a ban on the sale of cows and buffaloes for slaughter at animal markets across India. The laws governing cattle slaughter vary greatly from state to state.

A gazette notification, titled Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017 by the ministry states that no one can bring cattle to an animal market unless he or she has furnished a written declaration that the cattle will not be sold for the purpose of slaughter.

The first central regulation for cattle business allows only farmland owners to trade at animal markets. This means cattle can be sold only to a person who has documents to prove he is an “agriculturist”.

The “Preservation, protection and improvement of stock and prevention of animal diseases, veterinary training and practice” is Entry 15 of the State List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, meaning that State Legislatures have exclusive powers to legislate the prevention of slaughter and preservation of cattle.

Some States allow the slaughter of cattle with restrictions like a “fit-for-slaughter” certificate which may be issued depending on factors like age and gender of cattle, continued economic viability etc. Others completely ban cattle slaughter, while there is no restriction in a few states.

The petitioner ,Mohammed Abdul Faheem Qureshi,has claimed that Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Animals (Care and Maintenance of Case Property Animals) Rules, 2017, which bans sale of cattle for slaughter and other Rules against cattle trade respectively are “arbitrary, illegal, and unconstitutional.”