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Above: The PIL contended that meat export is anti-social, barbaric and unconstitutional/Photo: Vivian Fernandes

The Supreme Court Bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur virtually taunts the petitioners seeking a total ban on the trade

By Deepankar Malviya

Do you want the entire country to be full of vegetarians?” Justice Madan B Lokur of the Supreme Court was forced to ask this unusual question recently while hearing a petition for a ban on “the barbaric meat trade and leather industry”. A bench of Justices Lokur and Deepak Gupta was hearing a PIL filed by the Healthy Wealthy Ethical World Guide India Trust seeking a complete ban on export of all types of meat (including beef, fish, pork, poultry) and all related products by the government or by private parties.

“Meat exports and ancillary leather trade is anti-social, barbaric and the much talked of foreign exchange comes with a huge price at the cost of the nation,” the petition contended. How­ever, Justice Lokur remarked that “we cannot pass an order that everyone should become a vegetarian”.

The petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India was not against “private domestic meat production”. It wanted the trade of meat abolished as res extra commercium or things beyond commerce, and called these activities “blatantly unconstitutional” and violative of the Prevention to Cruelty of Animals Act, 1960, and going against the laws established in State Of Gujarat vs Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat, also known as the Mirzapur case, and Animal Welfare Board of India vs A. Nagraja, also known as the Jallikattu judgment.

The petition further stated that the entire meat trade was “destructive of life, violative of the Constitution and the Animal Welfare Statute, threatening the rights and lives of both humans and living creatures”.

Referring to the Jallikattu and Mirzapur cases, the petitioners pointed out “the organic and compassionate nature of the Constitution” and also referred to the concern shown in the Constitution for animal rights.

They emphasised that through the “Doctrine of Parens Patriae” —to act as a parent for any individual who is in need of protection—it becomes the duty of the Court to take care of the rights of animals as they are not able to take care of themselves. They alluded to the Jallikattu judgment and pointed out that the Doctrine of Necessity was invoked which entails that animals should be killed only for the limited purpose of human necessity.

The petitioners contended that meat exports also defy the rationale of the Mirzapur judgment delivered by the constitutional bench of seven judges. They argued that the government classifies cattle as “unproductive”, “aged” or “useless” whereas the bench had declared in its verdict that “there is no such thing as ‘unproductive’ or ‘useless cattle’.” They also pointed out that cattle dung can also prove useful in organic farming and referred to various experts like renowned agronomist Dr MS Swaminathan who stated that “the farmer must possess cattle for organic manure”. They were trying to impress upon the Court how the trading of meat deprives the nation of an integral part of organic farming, which can be helpful for the government in terms of environmental and soil health.

“The Indian State cannot participate in a ‘cut throat’ activity that snuffs out life, that slits open and chops living tissues, and without the compunction extracts every pound of flesh to sustain its illegal blood thirsty commercial operation,” the petitioners stated.

The issue of pollution was also brought in by the petitioners who argued how the leather industry and meat export business were closely related to each other. They pleaded that the issues raised by them regarding the meat export industry must also apply to the leather industry and by extension to any other ancillary industry.

The main accusation levied was that these industries play a major role in polluting the environment and, in particular, the River Ganga. The petitioners said that rampant pollutants emanate from these industries situated on the banks of the River Ganga or even close to it.

“It is pertinent to know that the tanneries and slaughterhouses along the Ganga River, are among the chief contributors of the pollution of this great waterway,” the petitioners said.

Apart from that they also have a hand in the serious public health issues that are on the rise in society and this was “against public interest” and “expressly unconstitutional”, the petitioners said.

Contending that meat exports “come with a huge price, at the cost of nation”, the petitioners sought to quantify the losses saying that a huge amount is spent for cleaning the Ganga. The amount, according to them, is Rs 20,000 crore over a five-year period.

The petitioners also cited the amount of money spent on the subsidies related to chemical farming which according to them is estimated to be Rs 70,000 crore plus the additional cost incurred in combatting the toxic wastes that come out of slaughterhouses and tanneries. “Compounded, the total expenditure to go up to Rs 1,00,000 which burns a big and deep hole in the pockets of the government,” they said.

The petitioners wanted the Court to issue directions to the central government, state government and Union Territories and all the other agencies of the state to stop their involvement in any way in the meat industry and ban the export of all types of meat and factory farming.

In its conclusion, the petition quoted the plea of Justice VR Krishna Iyer that “Government must be pressurised to do the right thing lest India’s image and cultural heritage suffer severe damage. Let us not betray the generations from Buddha to Gandhi…. Let us begin the crusade for compassion and we must win because our case is just.”

The centre and various state governments have already banned the consumption of beef. And in several states like Uttar Pradesh, the BJP soon after coming to power undertook a massive crackdown against slaughterhouses.

The case will come up for hearing again in February next year.

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