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The Maharashtra government has stirred a hornet’s nest by banning cow slaughter. while most states have similar laws, ironically, India is the second largest exporter of beef

By Somi Das

ON March 3, 2015, Maharash-tra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis tweeted: “Thanks a lot honourable President sir for the assent on Maharashtra Animal Preservation Bill. Our dream of ban on cow slaughter becomes reality now.” The tweet was written after President Pranab Mukherjee gave his assent to one of the longest pending bills in the state—the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment Bill), 1995. But Fadnavis should have checked his facts before going public with his jubilation. His “dream” had been realized long back as cow slaughter was prohibited under the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976. So was the slaughtering of calves. However, Schedule 6 of this Act allowed the slaughter of bulls, bullocks, female buffaloes and buffalo calves on obtaining a “fit-for-slaughter” certificate “if it is not likely to become economical for draught, breeding or milk (in the case of she-buffaloes) purposes.” ­­

But the new law, ie the 1995 amendment, also prohibits the slaughter of bulls and bullocks. Further, it makes the sale and possession of cow, bullock and bull meat punishable with five years in prison and `10,000 fine. Much to the disappointment of animal lovers, buffalos haven’t been spared.


In the constitution, prohibition of cow slaughter is a Directive Principle of State Policy (Article 48). It reads: “The State shall endeavour… prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.” Many a time, the constitution has been invoked by the anti-cow slaughter brigade.

However, India doesn’t have a national law or policy on cattle slaughter. States have their own laws in this regard. Cow slaughter is banned in most states except Kerala, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, which allow slaughter of all cattle without the need for a “fit for slaughter” certificate. In other states, the degree of prohibition ranges from a blanket ban to a selective age-utility-based ban. For example, in West Bengal, slaughter of all cattle, including cows, is allowed, provided the butcher has a “fit-for-slaughter” certificate, which is issued only if the animal is over 14 years of age and unfit for work or breeding or is permanently incapacitated for either.

Gujarat, predictably, has the most stringent laws. No variety of cattle is allowed to be slaughtered, except buffalo under special circumstances. The fine for slaughtering cattle is Rs. 50,000, while the maximum punishment is seven years. Haryana, Punjab and Rajas-than too have strict laws. In Jammu and Kashmir, the only Muslim majority state in India, on paper, slaughter of cattle is banned under the Ranbir Penal Code, 1932. Anyone caught violating it is liable to 10 years in prison or a fine of five times the amount that a butcher gets for the animal slaughtered. Nevertheless, beef is easily available across the valley.

However, in two major judgments on cow slaughter, the Supreme Court said the issue should not be seen through the prism of religion. In 1958, 3,000 petitioners, mostly Muslim butchers, challenged the constitutionality of the blanket ban on slaughter in several northern states, including Bihar, UP and Madhya Pradesh. While ruling on the case, known as the Mohd Hanif Qureshi & Others vs The State Of Bihar (And connected…), the Supreme Court said: “There is no religious compulsion on the Mussalmans to sacrifice a cow on Bakr Id Day.”

However, the court did agree with the petitioners’ argument that maintaining cattle after a certain point of time is a strain on farmers’ resources and a total prohibition would deprive poor people of certain communities of the only source of protein available to them.

The SC said: “Such a ban will also deprive a large section of the people of what may be their staple food. At any rate, they will have to forego the little protein food which may be within their means to take once or twice in the week. Preservation of useless cattle by establishment of Gosadans is not, for reasons already indicated, a practical proposition. Preservation of these useless animals by sending them to concentration camps to fend for themselves is to leave them to a process of slow death and does no good to them. On the contrary, it hurts the best interests of the nation in that the useless cattle deprive the useful ones of a good part of the cattle food, deteriorate the breed and eventually affect the production of milk and breeding bulls and working bullocks, besides involving an enormous expense, which could be better utilized for more urgent national needs.”

However, in its 2005 ruling, the SC reversed its stand on the above observation while hearing the State Of Gujarat vs Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab case. Calling cow dung more valuable than Kohinoor, the court found merit in Gujarat’s assertion that technological development had increased the economic life of cows and bullocks, thus validating the ban in the state.


People queue up for a serving of beef in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, to protest against the beef ban in Maharashtra


Despite stringent laws and the Supreme Court upholding the constitutional validity of laws on prohibiting cow slaughter, India has carved out a commendable position in the international beef market, as it is the second largest beef exporter after Brazil. Indian beef is preferred in Muslim countries because of its genuine halal nature.

As per data from the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Develop-ment Authority (APEDA), in 2013-2014, India exported a whooping 14,49,758.64 metric tons of beef to countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, UAE and many more. China and Russia are expected to soon open their markets for Indian beef. According to a Business Standard report, in the period between April and October 2014, India exported buffalo meat worth Rs. 16,083 crore, a rise of nearly 16 percent over the same period in the preceding year.

What makes India a lucrative beef market is that laws do not extend the same protection to buffalo as to cows. Buffalo meat, in technical terms, is known as carabeef and comes second to Basmati rice in the list of India’s agri-export commodities. Female buffalos are known to produce more milk than cows. But buffalos do not enjoy the same religious status as cows in Hindu mythology.

The distinction made by state governments between cows and buffalos has baffled many. In an interview to DNA, Dalit author and activist Kancha Ilaiah says: “It’s racial because the buffalo is black…. Cow protectionism is in our constitution. It’s an upper caste Brahmanic campaign. Why not other animals? I’m amazed at their cruelty towards the buffalo. It’s not justifiable.”
It is obvious there are caste and religious considerations while banning cow slaughter. Most state governments fail to address the issue of looking after drought and milch animals after their utility. As long as they are making profits selling buffalo meat in the international market and at the same time pandering to right-wing sentiments, everything else can wait.



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