New Delhi: Cattle trade rules notified by the government can spark unrest, impact the livelihoods of livestock farmers and be seen as an interference in people’s dietary habits, several states told the centre in letters of protest, forcing a rethink.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Market) Rules, 2017, notified last year on 23 May by the environment ministry, include buffaloes in the definition of cattle and ban the sale of cattle for slaughter. This, according to the meat industry, will harm the buffalo meat export business.

The ministry, at the time, defended the rules on the grounds that they aim to protect animals and end cattle smuggling. The issue was discussed at several forums including the Supreme Court where the National Democratic Alliance government promised to revise the rules after consulting all stakeholders to address their concerns. The apex court suspended the nationwide ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter in July.

According to letters written by state governments to the environment ministry, which have been reviewed by Mint, the reasons seeking revision of rules were of a varying nature. For instance, the letter by Karnataka government in August last year said that “a sudden ban on this activity (trading of animals) may lead to unrest in the farmers community besides affecting their right to choose."

Karnataka said precautionary measures suggested under the new rules mean that all established markets in the state will have to be built anew. It said that under the new rules the definition of cattle includes all forms of livestock and that a total ban on slaughter may lead to “health care issues in extreme circumstances"—because culling is required to prevent the spread of deadly diseases.

In November last year, the state of Mizoram wrote in, saying restrictions on cattle trade should be “deleted" as “India is a vast country where many groups of people with different culture, traditions and religions are living together peacefully". The proposed rules, it said, “will definitely hurt the sentiments of various groups of people."

Objecting equally strongly, Kerala wrote to the centre in September, stating that 95% of the southern state’s population prefers non-vegetarian food and “only bovine meat will suit the requirements of majority of them due to economic reasons."

The state also said that sometimes a farmer sells an animal as a last resort to meet financial requirements and that the rules will make it difficult for farmers whose livelihoods depend on dairying.

“The rules will lead to non-availability of meat to the common man, adversely affect livelihood of lakhs of people" and “compel farmers to give up dairy farming as it will be impossible for him to sell the unproductive animals," the Kerala government’s letter said.

In August 2017, the Union territory of Chandigarh wrote to the centre, objecting to the fact that the proposed rules will not allow those without agricultural land to purchase cattle “which is against the basic right of a human being", adding that “dairy farming is a source of income for some families."

Last week, The Indian Express reported that the centre, following consultations with the law ministry, will revise the rules, removing all reference to the term “slaughter".

“Extensive consultations have been carried out with stakeholders from across the country. We are yet to come out with a new notification to amend the rules," said a senior environment ministry official, requesting anonymity.

The livestock economy is a significant contributor to farmer incomes and if the proposed rules are not modified they will lead to a collapse of the dairy trade besides hurting buffalo meat exports, said Fauzan Alavi, spokesperson of the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association.

“Buffalo meat is among India’s largest export commodities but the trade is being impacted due to restrictions on the movement of animals," Alavi said, adding, “If the government is serious about improving farm incomes it should actually incentivise the dairy and meat industry... However, we have been repeatedly kept out of government consultations."

mayank.a@livemint.com

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