New Delhi: The central government told the Supreme Court on Thursday that the new rules tightening trade in livestock and transport of cattle is to create a “regulatory regime" and is not aimed at banning sale of cattle.

The submission was made during a hearing of the case challenging the legality of the new central government notification by a Hyderabad resident. In May, the ministry of environment notified the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules 2017, tightening trade in livestock and transport of cattle to ensure their welfare at animal markets and also prevent smuggling.

A bench comprising justices R.K. Agarwal and Sanjay Kishan Kaul sought a detailed response from the centre within two weeks. The court, however, did not stay the government notification after Additional Solicitor General P.S. Narasimha, the centre’s law officer told the court that the rules will not be immediately implemented.

The Madras High Court has already granted a stay in a public interest litigation case challenging the rules.

The rules banned trading in cattle for slaughter at animal markets. The rules included buffaloes in their definition of cattle, raising concerns that they would jeopardize the buffalo meat export business as the supply chain of spent buffaloes will be disrupted.

The central rules have drawn criticism from various quarters, including opposition parties, that it virtually bans sale of cattle in the country. Last week, Kerala held a special assembly session and after a two-hour debate, passed a near-unanimous special resolution against the central rules. On 13 June, Meghalaya also passed a similar resolution criticizing the new law.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Union Law Minister Ravishankar Prasad defended the new law. “This government does not want to control people’s food habits but it is a reality that a large section of the Indian population reveres the cow," Prasad said.

Twenty four states currently have in place either partial or full restrictions on sale, transport or slaughter of cows. The north-eastern states along with Kerala and West Bengal are exceptions but the new regulations are likely to affect these states as well.

Reiterating the stand of the union government, union minister Harsh Vardhan said that centre would seriously and honestly address all issues related to the recent notification banning sale and purchase of cattle from animal markets for slaughter.

“The Supreme Court has given us time till July 11, but we will file our response before it. We have already said that whosoever has any concern related to this issue, we (Centre) will seriously and honestly address those," said Harsh Vardhan, union minister told reporters on the sidelines of a function at the Delhi zoo. “We will reach out to any person in India who have a heartburn on this issue," he added.

PTI contributed to the story.

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