Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Different Rules for Different States

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Part of the confusion regarding cow slaughter and beef consumption are vague laws. It serves political interests to keep it that way

By Rakesh Bhatnagar

there has been a spate of diktats in recent times over cow slaughter and beef consumption. In rare cases, it has led to tragic events such as the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq by a mob in Dadri over suspicion that he had beef in his home. What had led to confusion are vague laws all over the country regarding both issues. And a series of judgments have not really cleared the matter. Take the following cases.

No state law explicitly bans the consumption of beef. Jammu and Kashmir, ruled by the BJP-PDP combine, for example, imposed a ban on cow slaughter and consumption of beef. However, on October 6, the Supreme Court suspended it for two months so that the state high court could take a final call on two conflicting orders passed by different benches on the issue. In Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the slaughter of cow and its progeny, bulls and bullocks is completely banned. Most states prohibit the slaughter of cows. However, Assam and West Bengal permit its slaughter if it is over the age of 10 and 14 years, respectively. Most states prohibit the slaughter of calves. With the exception of Bihar and Rajasthan where the age of a calf is given as below three years, other states have not defined its age.

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There’s no restriction on cow slaughter in Kerala, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim. In Delhi, Goa, Puducherry, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, violation of laws on cattle slaughter are both cognizable and non-bailable offences. Most of other states specify that offences would be cognizable only. Delhi and Madhya Pradesh have fixed a mandatory minimum imprisonment term of six months, but in several states, including Delhi, there is no ban on culling buffaloes (see map).

Contrary to the stand it took in 2005, the Supreme Court recently came out strongly on these curbs and declined to approve a temporary ban on the sale of meat in Mumbai
in view of the Jain festival, Paryushan.

On September 18, 2015, it declared that “a ban cannot be forced down somebody’s throat” and that the “spirit of tolerance” was paramount.

Unfortunately, the beef ban has led to a growing underground business, giving rise to about 30,000 illegal and unlicensed abattoirs in India.

While the ban on beef directly affects a majority of SCs and STs and people of other religions, this has been a core issue for the ruling BJP. The BJP election manifesto in 2014 had said the party would protect the cow. “In view of the contribution of the cow and its progeny to agriculture, socio economic and cultural life of the country, the department of animal husbandry will be suitably strengthened and empowered for the protection of cow and its progeny,” the manifesto stated.

On October 26, 2005, a seven-judge SC Bench comprising of then Chief Justice
RC Lahoti, Justices BN Agrawal, Arun Kumar, GP Mathur, CK Thakker and PK Balasubramanyan upheld the 1994 ban by Gujarat regarding cow slaughter, saying it had been imposed to maintain the environment as envisaged in Article 48-A of the Constitution. This Article deals with “environment, forests and wild life”.

The judgment said: “Protection and improvement of environment is necessary for safeguarding forests and wild life, which in turn protects and improves the environment. Forests and wild life are clearly inter- related and inter-dependent. They protect each other.”
The judges also said that cow progeny excreta is scientifically recognized as a source of rich organic manure.

It enables farmers to avoid the use of chemicals and inorganic manure. However, Justice AK Mathur was the sole voice of dissent in this bench.

In a separate judgment, he dismissed the appeal filed by Gujarat and held: “The court should guard zealously Fundamental Rights guaranteed to the citizens of the society, but at the same time strike a balance between these rights and the larger interests of the society.

“But when such right clashes with the larger interest of the country it must yield to the latter. Therefore, wherever any enactment is made for advancement of Directive Principles and it runs counter to the Fundamental Rights an attempt should be made to harmonise the same if it promotes larger public interest.”

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