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Centre's move to dilute rules on cattle sale in livestock markets defeats very purpose of animal welfare

Last year, in May 2017, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) notified the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules 2017, drafted to ensure the welfare of animals in livestock and cattle markets. The rules were formed in compliance with an order of the Supreme Court (Gauri Maulekhi versus Union of India) to regulate livestock markets in order to curb illegal cattle trafficking and to address the cruelties in these markets.

Amongst many provisions which included proper housing facilities, feed storage area, veterinary care and use of ramps to load and unload animals at the market, the rules restricted the sale of cattle for slaughter at the market. This ensured traceability through the supply chain.

BJP's cattle restrictions. Representational image. AP

Representational image. AP

Soon after, a controversy followed thanks to the curb on the sale for slaughter. The controversial provision in the rule was stayed by the Supreme Court while the rest was still enforced. However, the MoEFCC withdrew the livestock market rules entirely.

This week, the new draft was published by the ministry responsible for protecting the environment, including animals, and it is disappointing, to say the least. The new draft undermines the very idea for which the rules had been laid down; that of preventing unnecessary cruelty to animals. It fails to address the most common and horrific cruelties that take place, from the time the animals leave the farms to the point of being procured.

Historically, these live animal markets or pashu melas have been selling livestock openly and without much thought to the animals themselves. Illegal transportation of animals, over-crowding in markets, failure to provide water, food or shelter to the animals brought and constant tethering of animals in a manner that restricts their movement are merely a few issues that plague these markets. Additionally, these markets do not have any facilities even for providing water, let alone veterinary care.

All across the country, and largely in Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh, there are numerous unregulated and illegal markets. The new draft rules fail to achieve the objective of preventing illegal trafficking by eliminating the formation of an animal market monitoring committee which would, through mandated record keeping, ensure accountability; in addition to establishing proper facilities to host live animal markets.

Case in point being that, rule two of the draft does not define the animals covered; whether cattle, poultry, steers, heifers and calves etc. Moreover, it refers to animal markets that are duly licensed or recognised under a State Act or any other law; neglecting to address the various livestock markets that are presently neither recognised nor licensed under any existing regulations.

Moreover, the rules neglect to mandate the provision of water troughs to allow free access to drinking water for the animals, only stating ambiguously that the animals are provided with 'sufficient water as and when necessary'.

The little details it does provide on certification is unclear and inadequate. The 2017 rules had key components to prevent illegal transport of animals; when, HSI/India discovered that 70-80 percent of the animals sacrificed were being taken from India.

The rules were then drafted in accordance with the directions of the Supreme Court to regulate animal markets and address the cross-border smuggling of cattle. The new draft rules fail to address these concerns. They do not prohibit animal markets along state borders. They only prohibit animal markets within the jurisdiction of districts along international borders and do not specify any restricted area.

The previous rules prohibited the establishment of animal markets anywhere within 50 kilometres of state borders and 100 kilometres of international borders, with the purpose to prevent cattle smuggling. However, these new rules make no specifications, making them weaker.

The biggest drawback of the new draft rules is that they provide a blurry picture and weaken the earlier rules that intended to promote the traceability of food, thereby ensuring that diseased and animals on antibiotics do not reach the human plate for consumption.

Before the rules, there was no way to keep track of the animals or liability of animal traders and the cattle sold was often suffering from diseases. The new rules have thrown the consumers back in the same situation of uncertainty. It mentions a vague 'take all necessary steps' for the provision of certificates (for livestock market) and maintenance of records,  without a proper watchdog to ensure that everything is in order.

In all, these new rules neither help humans nor the animals in question. With no concrete direction as to how animals must be handled or treated, the draft seems to think less of the immense cruelty that these animals go through – dragged by their nose ropes, forced up vehicles without ramps resulting in broken bones, tied on short ropes, muzzling calves, poultry being carried upside down and suspended mid-air. Moreover, not knowing the physical condition of the animals before being sold at these markets for slaughter puts the consumers at high risk of consuming contaminated meat.

The earlier rules had prohibited the sale of animals for slaughter only through the livestock markets so that illegal trafficking is curbed, so that animals for slaughter could be sought directly from farms, thus ensuring traceability, which leads to food safety and prevents animal cruelty at the markets.

The new draft rules are extremely disappointing because of the risk they now present to the consumers; while doing nothing to prevent unnecessary pain and suffering to the animals.

Updated Date: Apr 12, 2018 11:45 AM

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