Ban on cattle sale for slaughter: Can we stop outraging and focus on regulating animal markets?

On 23 May, the Government of India issued rules regulating the cattle market. The regulations seem to have affected the country even before they have been implemented or even read. Kerala went ballistic and, without most people having read or understood the rules, issued threats against the government of India. Members of the Congress party went so far as to slaughter a baby cow in public and distribute the meat to equally vicious spectators of this perverted cruelty. Kerala has no licensed slaughterhouses except the ones for export, so god knows what they were getting upset about – except Kerala no longer needs a reason to kill somebody – dogs, cows, women, children, elephants, other party workers.

West Bengal put up a lesser howl and Tamil Nadu made a feeble protest – because they are the ones who run the most illegal cattle markets in India and supply pregnant, sick, diseased and baby animals to Bangladesh and Kerala respectively.

Some strong opinions have been expressed by political leaders and students unions but are devoid of legitimate content because almost none of these have observed or even seen livestock markets. Unfortunately, what gets conveyed and leads to mass hysteria is just political rhetoric. The context and provisions of the rules have been slaughtered in the process.

Let us understand the need to regulate the livestock markets. Only two kinds of animals are brought to livestock markets — ones that are useful for milch purposes or ploughing purposes and the ones that are to be sold for meat purposes. The ones that are useful are taken reasonable care of and their transport is less prone to smuggling as they find end users easily. Moreover, their health and appearance has to be kept in reasonable shape for them to fetch a high price.

 Ban on cattle sale for slaughter: Can we stop outraging and focus on regulating animal markets?

Representational image. Reuters

The second kind of animals that come to be sold for meat is another universe of hell. The farmer usually sells his discarded cattle for meat in intermediary markets to commission agents. These agents buy a dozen or so and take them to bigger markets and sell them to bigger agents. After many such transactions in many intermediate markets, at some point they are congregated, stuffed into trucks and taken to other states to be sold to bigger contractors. The interstate movement of cattle in North India is towards West Bengal via Jharkhand, Odisha or Bihar. In the southern states, the cattle are transported towards Kerala from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and even Maharashtra. Please bear in mind that most state Acts for slaughter or transport of cattle out of the State require extensive permissions from Animal Husbandry or Revenue Authorities. While none of this is followed, a system of "hafta" exists and police check posts simply let the overloaded trucks pass for a fee in blood money. Knowingly or not, everyone involved in the chain becomes a part of the smuggling racket which has plagued India.

However much we may want to believe otherwise, this racket is not unorganised or organic by any stretch. There is an organised cattle trafficking mafia that operates in every state in India. The Ministry of Home Affairs in 2006 established the links between cattle smuggling and terror funding. In 2008, HUJI militants arrested after the Assam blasts confessed that they sourced all the money to conduct their activities through smuggling of cattle. Every year, in Uttar Pradesh alone, more than 100 police personnel get killed by cattle smugglers. On the Indo-Bangladesh border, scores of BSF jawans get butchered by the cattle smuggling mafia every year. The profit margins for export of meat to the gulf countries through Bangladesh is extremely high and there is nothing that the mafia wouldn't do to anyone who comes in their way.

There is an unwritten prohibition on the entry of women in the Ghazipur cattle market in Delhi. The "sights are disturbing", they say. The animal slaughter section of the Sonepur cattle market in Bihar is a place where only "known middlemen" are allowed to enter. Anyone who walks in with a camera will surely not walk out with one and may also have to be carried out on a stretcher. Reason being, the picture isn't pretty. The tortured animals tied with short ropes, stand in lines for days and sometimes weeks, waiting for a buyer or the appropriate time for transport towards further hell. Their spirits are broken due to gross mishandling. Little calves can be seen looking for their mothers who are sold elsewhere.

The cruelty issues for cattle slaughter are huge. The death march that starts from the farmer's doorstep does not end at one market or with one buyer. They exchange multiple hands and are invariably ill-treated by each successive buyer. The question of feeding and giving water does not arise because they have to be slaughtered anyway. Sometimes, the weak ones are given alum water to drink to make their kidneys fail. This way, water is retained in their bodies making them look fatter — so that they fetch a higher price. They are made to travel from one market to another on foot, stuffed in trucks, in smaller vehicles and also in trains. The common factor here is the absence of necessary permissions and total disregard of existing laws for prevention of cruelty. It is quite common in southern states to see chillies stuffed in the eyes of cattle, to make them stand up in pain even when they are on the brink of death due to exhaustion. To maximise profits and cut costs, the cattle are stuffed into trucks beyond imagination.

Some suffocate to death, many get fractured bones, punctured eyes, broken tails, prolapsed uteruses, broken necks. In the absence of ramps for loading and unloading, the animals are thrown from vehicles often causing crippling injuries. They are pulled onto vehicles by strangling them and pulling with brute force. Such blatant brutality is generally not shown to animals that are still productive for agricultural use.

Regulating the markets and creating connections directly from the farms to the slaughterhouses, through established channels such as the dairy cooperatives, hurts nobody other than the mafia, their contractors and middlemen.

Moreover, the dairy industry needs to be accountable for disposing its byproduct in a responsible manner. The Indian Council for Agricultural Research, Government of India has also worked on sustainable and income generating models of keeping non-milking animals. These need to be implemented by state governments. The dairy sector is not an amorphous entity as most urban people believe. It is highly organised through milk cooperatives and Dairy Development Boards in each state. These channels need to be used for disposal of cattle that can be sold for slaughter so that there is accountability and reasonableness in the transactions and to minimise cruelty.

After having taken into account despicable cruelty and grave issues such as the threats of cattle smuggling and their implications on people and animals, the drafting committee framed the rules. Tamil Nadu opposes it for strange reasons. One of their arguments for opposing the Jallikattu ban was that they do not want their precocious cattle smuggled to Kerala and slaughtered. Now, they oppose a rule that actually addresses the problem.

West Bengal has been a respondent in Writ Petition 881 of 2014 and present at each hearing and consultation and deliberation that took place while arriving at the notification. The West Bengal counsel was in court on 13 July, 2015 when court asked the union government to frame the rules and also on the day when union government informed the court that the draft livestock rules were notified on 17 January, 2017. Why did they wait till the order was finally passed? And they suspect that it has anything to do with Ramzan! The Congress party has put up an eye-opening demonstration in Kerala, defeating the provisions of their own Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 and Regulations 2011. The unfortunate attempts reek of desperation and cowardice.

The rest of India breathed a sigh of relief. If Environment Minister Dave has left a legacy, it is this rule.

Updated Date: Jun 01, 2017 07:17:36 IST