The Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday to extend the Madras High Court's three-month stay — on the government's notification regarding sale of cattle for slaughter — across India shows that Centre may have won a battle or two but they've lost the war.
The contentious rules will probably never see the light of the day, which is good news for India’s rural farm economy and meat export industry.
"Needless to say that the interim direction issued by the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court shall continue and extend to the entire country," the Supreme Court (SC) bench said.
As this Firstpost article pointed out, this was a battle the Centre was bound to lose, both for legal and political reasons. And that's exactly what happened.
Several states had challenged the Centre's notification in court citing reasons such as: The states’ power to regulate cattle trade, the freedom of the people to choose the food they like and the disastrous impact of the notification on the meat industry.
And finally, the Centre's notification also led some to allege that the Narendra Modi government was trying to enforce a backdoor ban on meat by choking the supply of cattle and thereby imposing their 'Hindutva agenda'.
Livestock markets are the prime centres of cattle trade and the farm-to-fork model is still a work in progress. Given that only about 10 percent of the cattle to be slaughtered are procured directly from farmers, the protest from the meat industry was expected.
The Centre’s notification was challenged in Madras High Court on the grounds that it violated the basic right of an individual to choose his or her food. On 29 June, the court yet again extended the stay by four weeks. The latest apex court ruling leaves the Modi government with no option but to revoke the notification.
In the Supreme Court, the government indicated that it will review the guidelines and it didn’t seem to defend its notification aggressively. Perhaps it realized the mess it made.
Already, states like Kerala and Meghalaya have passed resolutions against the Centre’s notification. They say they will not implement the notification. The West Bengal and Tripura governments, also citing states' rights, said they will not implement it.
And without the cooperation of the state governments, it becomes impossible for the Centre to impose its will. The government should have taken the advice and consent of the states before announcing their notification.
Let's be clear: The core issue was not the government's intent — to bring discipline to cattle trade and prevent theft by way of stringent guidelines — but with the provision that banned the sale of cattle for slaughter in market places. Which immediately triggered panic among farmers and meat traders.
According to the meat industry lobby, slaughter houses gets only 10 percent of the cattle directly from farmers. The rest happen in the country, where farmers bring their unused cattle to small, neighbourhood markets. From there, traders take cattle to bigger mandis. Halting this and imposing the farm-to-fork model overnight would have paralysed the industry.
Worse, it would have jolted the rural economy where farmer sells his old cattle to raise funds to buy new cattle or invest in farm equipment. Above all, it simply isn't practical for small traders to supply stock directly to slaughter houses. The scarcity of animals will also hurt the tanning and leather industries.
And when supply is reduced, demand increases. That's economics 101. Consumers will be forced to pay through the nose and business will be hit. Particularly in states like Kerala, where meat consumption is high (according to the state finance minister, over 70 percent of the population eat beef), the populace saw this move as the government trying to encroach upon their rights and curbing their eating habits.
Finally, the Centre's new rules defined ‘cattle’ to include buffaloes, which wasn't the case earlier. Even when the restrictions were in place, the food that many hotels served as 'beef' was buffalo meat. The inclusion of buffaloes in this category came as a shock to both meat eaters and traders in many states.
Now that the Supreme Court order has brought clarity to the situation, the Centre can still save face: By revoking the notification and implementing other provisions to improve the functioning of cattle markets and treatment of animals.
The Centre must work in a way that does no harm to the meat industry. The Centre can direct states to ensure cattle ownership rules are followed strictly, animals are transported and sold in a fair manner, and even have a separate area for cattle that will be sold for slaughter.
But this notification was a bad idea. It needs to be done away with as quickly as possible.
Updated Date: Jul 12, 2017 10:50 AM