Regulation of Beef Industry: Socio-Legal Implications

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Regulation of beef industry in India has had an elongated history, touching upon almost all dynamics of the society, be it social, political, economic or legal. This article aims at making an earnest attempt to understand and analyze socio-legal ramifications of various legislative instruments, judicial decisions and Constitutional provisions which pursue regulation of the beef industry and investigate as to how well it acclimates with the demand of beef based products in the Indian society.

Beef industry has been regulated by various constitutional provisions, statutes, judicial decisions, policies and committees, giving rise to plethora of disputations by various segments of the society .The Presidential assent to the recent Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, 1995 once again opened the much controversial debate on secularism, fundamental rights and directive principles of state policy. To understand the controversy involved and its legal implications, it is pertinent to look at the various legal reforms which intended at regularizing the beef industry.

Laws regulating beef industry (slaughtering business, per se) dates back to Mughal era when cow slaughter was banned for the first time by Babar to win the hearts of people of Hindustan, starting the fashion of banning slaughtering of holy cow and its progeny. This went on for long, until the advent of British rule in India who built large number of slaughterhouses across India, for their fancy of beef. Post Independence, various provisions in the Indian Constitution extended protection to cows and its progeny like that in Article 48 which enumerates on organization of agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and prohibiting slaughter of cows, calves and other milch and draught cattle, which is in line of Article 51A (g) of the Indian Constitution bestowing a fundamental duty upon every citizen to have compassion for the living creature. In addition to this, Entry 15 of List 2 of VII schedule gives power to the state government to frame laws for preservation, protection and improvement of stock and preservation of animal disease. Various committees were appointed to introspect upon intricacies of the cattle ban. The Cattle Preservation and Development Committee was the first such committee appointed in 1947 by the then Ministry of Agriculture, which strongly suggested prohibition on cattle slaughter for those below 14 years of age. The recommendation was taken on serious note by many state governments and they passed laws giving effect to the recommendation. The Uttar Pradesh Committee was appointed in 1948, to understand local implications of regulation of beef industry, following a partial ban was introduced in the concerned state.

Many of these enactments were challenged in the court of law, being ultra vires to Constitution or challenging their constitutional validity, which gave the judiciary to discuss the matter in great detail. The court for the first time in the case of Haji UsmanbhaiHasanbhai Qureshi and Others v. State of Gujarat gave a detailed analysis of the implications of the ban and prohibition on cattle slaughter. As much as the decision is significant, it no more holds the importance as was explained exquisitely and in great detail in the case of State of Gujarat v. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab wherein the Supreme Court refuted arguments based on dietary benefits of beef, lively hood of butchers and limited use of cattle after certain age. The Court gave the reasoning on the lines of Article 51 A (g), which puts a moral obligation on the society to protect the old animal as it served the society when it was young and healthy.

The judiciary has even clarified the contention of Secularism, wherein Muslim community contented that prohibitory regulation of beef industry violates the tenants of Secularism and their right to profess religion as enshrined under Article 25(1) of the India Constitution. The Supreme Court in State of West Bengal v. AshutoshLahiri rejected this contention and held that sacrificing cow in not the only way to profess and practice Islam during Bakri Eid and for the same reason it is not protected by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution. Therefore, it can be undoubtedly agreed that Indian judiciary held the ban to be constitutionally valid, giving force to the law on the basis of economic and social justifications and not on any religious basis, for which the law is often criticized.

It seems that the beef ban being implemented in India is a political decision, which has nothingto do with religious sentiments, or environmental concerns. India is the fifth largest beef consumer in the world and the second largest exporter of beef. It is consumed by Christians, Muslims and even Hindus (generally non – Brahmins). That being said, beef is one of the biggest sources of nutrition for the poorer sections of Indian society. There are families engaged in the trade of beef, who have been doing so for many generations. This beef ban pushes them into a state of poverty leaving them with no source of income. There are other people who state that this ban is discriminatory, as it favors the respect of Hindu Religious sentiments, over the religious practices of Muslims and Christians. The beef ban is also likely to hit farmers who rear cattle for this purpose; they will now have no market for their cattle.

The Supreme Court in two cases has looked into the importance of beef for the poorer sections of society. In the 1958 case, the bench found that it would be more useful to slaughter cattle in order to feed the poor than to keep the cattle alive. Justice Das of the Supreme Court of India in a judgment has deemed beef to be the common man’s food. He reasons that it costs far less in comparison to mutton or chicken and is more widely available for the poorer sections of society. Equitable distribution of nutrition was looked into in the 2005 case,wherein it was evident that non – vegetarian diet was not necessarily a contributor to nutrition levels increasing amongst the poor.

As a matter of respect of religious sentiments of the minority religions in this country, as well as for the monetary ability of India’s citizens, it may be necessary to re – think the beef ban. There are numerous social and legal implications to having such a ban. Religious functions of the Christians and Muslims may get disrupted because of the non – availability of beef. Furthermore there are Hindus from poor or lower castes that require beef in order to meet their daily nutrition and calorie requirements. The social implication of people losing an occupation (of being beef vendors) will create social unrest and further the economic divide between people. It may even prove impossible to find an alternate livelihood for people who have been engaging in the beef trade for generations.

That being said and understood, it remains open to witness the policies of government to protect the “Holy” cow, by providing safer shelters, healthy food and proper medical infrastructure for their safety and better lives. The government taking such strong instance should now reflect the similar perceptions towards other policies decisions they take to bring some sort of uniformity in their actions, to provide fairer opportunity for voters to judge them on.

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