New Delhi/Bengaluru/Chennai: The legality of new Central government rules tightening trade in livestock and transport of cattle has been challenged in courts across the country, sparking a fresh debate on the constitutional protection of cows.

The Kerala high court on Wednesday dismissed a public interest litigation challenging the new rules, observing that the regulations do not amount to a ban on cow slaughter.

“Regulation only bans sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets. It has not banned cattle slaughter at all. Can’t the sale and slaughtering be done at home or other places," the court remarked, according to PTI.

The dismissal of the case comes a day after the Madurai bench of the Madras high court stayed the central notification.

Last week, 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.

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.

On Wednesday, the Rajasthan high court, in an order, directed the government to consider declaring the cow as the national animal. The court’s directive came in response to a public interest litigation filed by Jago Janta Society, a Jaipur based non-profit. The petitioners had initially sought the high court’s intervention in the maintenance of a cow shelter in Jaipur.

In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party, in its manifesto, had promised to take steps for cow protection and welfare. By May 2015, the demand to declare the cow as the national animal in place of the endangered tiger had grown with over 100,000 individuals and groups writing to the Union environment ministry on the issue (

In July 2016, the Himachal Pradesh high court 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". This was stayed by the Supreme Court in January 2017. The Union agriculture and environment ministries have been trying to shift responsibility of such a law on to each other (

Kerala is set to summon a special assembly session on Thursday to discuss the course of action to overcome the centre’s new cattle trade norms, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan told reporters on Wednesday. Vijayan also said he would call a meeting of his counterparts in other states and challenge the norms legally.

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.

Apurva Vishwanath contributed to this story.