On Tuesday, 11 July, the Supreme Court upheld the Madras High Court’s stay on the central government’s May notification that banned sale of cattle for slaughter across the country.
The ban on cattle slaughter evoked criticism from across the country, with critics alleging it was unconstitutional, non-secular and harmful for the economy.
Four petitions against the centre’s move to ban the sale and purchase of cows and buffaloes at animal markets for slaughter were disposed of by the apex court after the government submitted that it is taking a relook and promised.
The Court also upheld the Madras HC’s verdict, dismantling the ban across India.
The controversial government notification
The centre’s rules were issued under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and requires anyone buying cattle to provide an undertaking that the animals are purchased for the purpose of agriculture and not slaughter.
The notification further makes procuring of the animals difficult as large amounts of paperwork is added for every transaction involving the purchase of cattle at animal markets. The authorities now demand numerous records and five copies of the proof of sale, each of which is to be handed to different officials at various levels.
Even though the rules do not itself ban slaughter, it is likely to have a major impact on cattle slaughter across the country. It allows cattle trade at animal markets to only take place for agricultural purposes and license breeding remains legal.
The controversial ban triggered protests and beef fests across India with several states – especially Kerala and West Bengal – saying they wouldn’t implement the order as the government cannot dictate food habits.
Even some of the ruling BJP’s own allies in the Northeast – where beef is part of the daily diet – had raised objections.
Madras HC had previously put a stay on the centre’s notification
On 30 May, the Madras High Court has put a stay on the centre’s new rules on cattle slaughter.
Besides explaining how the new rules violated many Articles in the Constitution, S Selva Gomathi (the petitioner whose PIL the Court heard) told the Court: “The right to choice of food (non-vegetarian or vegetarian) is a part of the right to personal liberty, conscience and privacy. By imposing a ban on the slaughter of animals for food, the citizens with a choice to eat the flesh of such animals would be deprived of such food and it violates the right to food, privacy and personal liberty.”
Supreme Court upholds Madras HC’s order, time given to centre to submit new rules
“It is pointed out by the Centre that the issues under challenge are subject matter of fresh consideration and concerned authorities are seized of it.It is submitted that the rules will be renotified after appropriate changes. In the above view of the matter we do not find any reason to keep the petitions pending,” an SC bench of Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud ruled.
During the hearing Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for two petitioners, said, “We only want an assurance … A message should go out that business is not stopped … that rules will not be implemented without a re-look.”
CJI Khehar also said in the order: “We are of the view that as and when fresh notification is issued sufficient time shall be granted by government for implementation of the notified amendments so that till the rules are implemented there is sufficient time for parties to assail the same.”
The government said that certain aspects of the rules have touched upon “sensitive” topics and the Secretary of Ministry of Environment and Forests is re-visiting the rules.
The centre said that it has received large number of representations and concerns regarding its notification and necessary changes can be brought in the order. It said it would issue new rules by the end of August.