Legal obstacles to slaughter of cattle assume new forms in the wake of cow protection discourse

In March 2017, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) government had issued orders for the closure of illegal slaughterhouses in the state, following the electoral victory of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state. Given that trade in cattle meat in UP is largely carried out by unregulated small establishments, implementation of this order effected a near prohibition on slaughter of cattle. In a writ petition titled Mohd. Mustafa and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors (MB No. 8923/2017) in which the manner of implementation of the order was challenged, the Allahabad High Court directed the state government to issue new licenses and renew those that had expired. Directing the state government to undertake consultation and awareness, the Court observed that a near-ban situation could have been avoided by the government by creating awareness about the legal compliances necessary for obtaining/renewing licences instead of withdrawing itself from an activity that is essential for enjoyment of basic fundamental rights such as the right to choice of food and freedom of trade and occupation.

In another instance of indirect ban on cattle slaughter, the Central government notified new rules on sale and transport of cattle under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which if implemented, would completely prohibiting trade in buffalo and cattle, depriving farmers and cattle traders of their livelihood. These legal developments cause serious concern in the wake of increasing cow vigilantism who target cattle traders and transporters as ‘slaughterers’, including through lynch mobs. In view of a stay order of the Madras High Court on these rules, protests by the agriculturist lobby which has filed a PIL to challenge them in the Supreme Court, as well as opposition from some state governments including those of Kerala and West Bengal, the central government has agreed to review the proposed rules.