Centre set to amend cattle slaughter rules in bid to keep everyone happy

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The Central government is set to make major amendments to the controversial rules under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which bans animal markets from selling cattle for slaughter.

The changes could clear the confusion on several issues including the possible exclusion of buffalo from the ban.

"The issue (ban on sale of cattle for slaughter) is being politicised and the notification has been 'misconstrued, misinterpreted and misunderstood'. If the misinterpretation is because of particular words or sentences, we will honestly make efforts to remove that confusion," Environment and Forests Minister Harsh Vardhan told Business Standard. The rules, which were notified on May 23, had laid down several preconditions, including an undertaking from the buyer that the animal has been purchased from the market for agriculture purposes and not for slaughter.

The notification had brought the cattle and livestock market in the country to a grinding halt, and had particularly impacted trading in buffalo. More than 90 per cent of the buffaloes traded in the country are bought by slaughter houses from cattle markets, for their meat and for use in the leather industry.

The notification also prohibited sale of cattle on lairages adjoining the slaughter houses.

A lairage is usually a holding pen in which cattle are kept by individual farmers, before being sent for slaughter.

Cattle, as defined by the rules, meant bovine animals, including bulls, bullocks, cows, buffaloes, steers, heifers and calves. It also included camels.

The notification also banned holding of any animal market within 25 km of any state border and 50 km of any international border.

Apart from buffalo meat trade and exports, the notification rattled the country's livestock and dairy sector, which has been growing at a faster rate than cereals the past few years.

Political parties, including the Congress, termed the rule as an assault on people's eating habits, as beef is consumed in southern states and the slaughter ban indirectly would end that.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan termed the move as an effort to impose the RSS agenda over the country.

Beef fests were organised on a large scale across many southern states in protest against the order, and in one instance, Youth Congress workers publicly killed a cow, sparking angry protest from BJP and others.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and others repeatedly said that the notification was not meant to regulate slaughter, while agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh said cattle is engine of growth in rural areas.

"It was never the intent of the government to directly or indirectly hurt the slaughtering business, or harm farmers or even influence the food habits of the people," Harsh Vardhan said.

He said that the government was meticulously studying the representations and petitions received from all sections and would take appropriate remedial measures soon.

Officials said that there could have been some drafting flaws in the notification, which the Centre was trying to correct.

"It was never the government's intent to harm business and food habits," the official remarked.

Reacting to the minister's statement, D B Sabharwal, secretary-general of All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association said the exporters would like to wait for the final amendment before commenting and also await the Supreme Court's decision on the matter, expected on June 15.

A delegation of meat exporters met Harsh Vardhan on Tuesday to apprise him of the difficulties that the trade is facing.

India is a global leader in buffalo meat trade. Exports grew at a compounded annual rate of 29 per cent between 2007-08 and 2015-16 to Rs 26,685 crore, from Rs 3,533 crore.

The country is also the largest producer of milk, over 50 per cent of which comes from buffaloes.