New Delhi: Amid mounting attacks by cow protection vigilantes, two Union ministries can’t seem to be able to make up their minds about which one of them is to draft a national law on protecting the cow, apparently unwilling to tackle the sensitive issue.
On 23 December, the ministry of environment, forests and climate change, led by Anil Madhav Dave, sent a letter to the agriculture ministry’s department of animal husbandry, dairying and fisheries (cattle division) to explore the option of enacting a national law to prohibit cow slaughter, and selling of beef or beef products. Only five states and one Union territory have no law on the subject. Of the rest, in some states cow slaughter and beef consumption is completely banned, and in the rest it is allowed after permission.
Four months on, the ministries are still undecided on who will finally frame the law.
“In response to MoEFCC’s letter, the agriculture ministry replied that the environment ministry should lead the issue and frame the law as it deals with welfare of animals," said a senior environment ministry official, declining to be named.
The ministry, however, is of the view that welfare of cattle is the responsibility of the animal husbandry department.
“We have conveyed our opinion to the agriculture ministry. They should take a lead on the subject as they have all the experts on the subject. We will give our views whenever it would come up for inter-ministerial discussions," the official added.
Another senior official of the environment ministry, also requesting anonymity, said, “It’s a sensitive issue and thus everyone wants to be extremely careful."
The environment ministry’s December 2016 letter was the result of a judgement delivered in July 2016 by the Himachal Pradesh high court, which had asked the central government to “enact the law prohibiting slaughtering of cow/calf, import or export of cow/calf, selling of beef or beef products, in its wisdom, at national level".
The high court’s its decision was stayed by the Supreme Court in January. However, the central government can still take a policy decision and enact such a law.
The reported hesitancy comes in the face of rising incidence of vigilantes attacking or lynching people on suspicion of taking cows to slaughter or eating beef.
Cow protection was an election pledge of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 general election, and since coming to power, the party has also heard demands to declare the cow as India’s national animal, replacing the tiger.
In 2015, the BJP-led Haryana government banned the sale of beef in any form and proposed imprisonment of 10 years for cow slaughter. In the same year, Maharashtra, also ruled by a BJP-led government, also banned the sale and consumption of beef and imposed a five-year jail term for cow slaughter.
However, in 2016, the Bombay high court struck down some sections of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act that criminalized the possession of beef, saying they infringed on a person’s right to privacy.
In September 2015, a mob in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, killed Mohammad Akhlaq on the suspicion that his family stored and ate beef at home.