BEEF DOES NOT GROW ON TREES — On the recent animal slaughter legislation in India.

The recent Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules 2017 passed by the cenral government has the Hindutva brigade and a section of the animal rights brigade justifying it as a move towards effecting transparency in transactions and hygienic and humane conditions in animal slaughter. Some, like actor Srinivasan has amusingly (but unsurprisingly) claimed that the move would help in the preservation of indigenous cattle breeds. But less said about Srinivasan, the better. Joy Mathew, Kerala's loudest social media "public intellectual", too has jumped into the “hygienic meat” bandwagon, continuing his tendency to hold garden-variety upper caste middle class political understanding on some issues.

Let us look at these claims closely. Firstly, the new Rules are made under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act 1960. A close examination of the new Rules reveals that it has nothing new to say about the functioning of slaughter houses except what is already in the parent act. In fact, the only reference to cattle slaughter in it is where it says that cattle bought in animal markets cannot be slaughtered. Let me emphasize, NOTHING new on the standards to be maintained in slaughterhouses. Animal markets, yes, but not slaughterhouses.

Full copy of the Rules can be accessed here:

One of the provisions of the Rule is to restrict sale of cattle only to agriculturalists. The purchaser has to provide identity and proof of land ownership. The Rules also introduce a deluge of paperwork for cattle traders. For instance, before the trade, both seller and buyer will have to produce identity and farmland ownership documents. After buying a cattle, a trader must make five copies of proof of sale and submit them at the local revenue office, the local veterinary doctor in the district of the purchaser, animal market committee, apart from one each for seller and buyer. This would be an opportune point to recall Modi’s repeated outrage at Nehruvian license raj regime and claims that had it not been for license raj, India would have by now been a paradise. Now, what the government has done is exactly what it purported to end, only stronger. Single window clearances for private corporations but iron-cage restrictions and licensing for cattle trade seems to be the new norm. “Ease of doing business” is only for the corporates but not for farmers and cattle traders.

Two provisions in the legislation, Rule 22(b)(iii) and 22(e)(i), are what makes the Rules so nefarious. According to Rule 22(b)(iii), the owner of the cattle or his/her agent has to furnish a duly signed declaration the the cattle has not been brought to market for sale for slaughter. Rule 22(e)(i) on the other hand prohibits the purchaser from reselling the cattle for slaughter.

These two provisions along with the definition of “animal market” in Rule 2(b) is what makes the Rules in effect an almost blanket ban on cattle slaughter. “Animal market” has been defined as “a market place or sale yard or any other premises or place to which animals are brought from other places and exposed for sale or auction and includes any lairage adjoining a market or a slaughterhouse and used in connection with it and any place adjoining a market used as a parking area by visitors to the market for parking vehicles and includes animal fair and cattle pound where animals are offered or displayed for sale or auction”. Since a lairage is a place where cattle is kept before being slaughtered and slaughterhouses keep the animals nearby, the Rules have in effect made it near impossible to sell cattle directly to slaughterhouses. Smaller slaughterhouses would be the most affected.

Consequently only persons who rear cattle on their own farms can slaughter them in their backyards. According to the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association, almost 90% of all cattle for slaughter are sourced from animal markets and only 10% directly from farms. This means that the ban is almost complete with the worst affected being the smaller cattle traders and meat businesses which are overwhelmingly related to the livelihoods of Dalits and Muslims.

In essence what the new act proves to be is a deceitful backdoor effort at sliding in the Hindutva agenda in the garb of “addressing cruelty to animals”. It is yet another instance like the recent Aadhaar Act where the government has resorted to a circuitous route to push its agenda in seemingly progressive pretexts.

Anyone believing that this legislation has anything to do with addressing cruelty to animals or improving the operating conditions of slaughter houses, and I have no milder way to say this, is either a right wing collaborationist, or any presumption that they have about their progressive politics is spectacularly flawed.

PS: For those who argue that it is not a ban on beef consumption, where do you think beef comes from? Surely, not trees!