A mistake with costly implications

The new rules effectively make it impossible for farmers to sell livestock that is of no productive use to them.

The central government’s gazette notification of rules under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 on May 23 banning sale of cattle-including cow, calf, bull, bullock, buffalo, heifer, steer and camel for slaughter at animal markets has important implications for the economy and for people’s livelihoods. The livestock sector accounts for over 4 per cent of India’s GDP and for more than one-fourth of its agricultural GDP.

The new rules effectively make it impossible for farmers to sell livestock that is of no productive use to them. This implies that the benefit of sale at regular cattle markets, which would enable better ‘price discovery’ for their cattle, is denied to the farmers. Instead, they will end up having to sell useless cattle informally to local traders at very low prices.

The difficult regulations imposing considerable bureaucratic procedures and paperwork on farmers, with plenty of scope for corruption, big and small, will hit hard all cattle sales. This is because the onus of proving that the sale is not for slaughter is imposed on both parties and the restriction is placed on the buyer that he/she cannot sell a purchased animal for at least six months. The parties to every transaction would have to give an undertaking, duly certified, that the purchase/sale is not for slaughter. Inter-state sale of cattle is prohibited for all practical purposes.

Currently, and for some years now, as the country faces a severe agrarian crisis, crop agriculture has become increasingly unviable for a majority of small, marginal and medium cultivators. For a section of the small and marginal farmers, livestock has provided an important source of supplementary income. One important result of the restrictions on sale of cattle through the regular markets would be that cattle rearing would cease to be a source of livelihood for rural poor households.

A key implication of the new rules is that farmers would have to maintain cattle that have become useless, spending their meagre resources on such maintenance. This would make it difficult to take care of the productive livestock that the farmer possesses. It will lead to a decline in the population of milch animals and hence milk production as well. Milk and meat are crucial to tackling malnutrition in India, especially among children. At the national level, as per data from the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), daily protein consumption dipped from 60.2 grams per capita in 1993-94 to 56.5 grams in 2011-12 in rural areas and from 57.2 grams to 55.7 grams in urban areas. This needs to be reversed, and that requires increased consumption of milk and meat by the vulnerable segments of the population. By hurting the production of milk and meat, the rules notified will make this very hard to achieve.

Any disruption in the supply chain that links farmers selling aged and unproductive cattle to leather and meat markets will have significant economic implications for meat and leather industries and exports, and especially so for working people in these sectors. India is a major exporter of beef, especially buffalo meat. According to a study done by agricultural economists at the Department of Agriculture of the US government (USDA), ‘…India’s beef exports grew from an average of 0.31 million tons during 1999-2001 to an estimated 2.1 million tons during 2013-15, or about 12 per cent annually. Over the same period, India increased its share of world beef exports from just 5 percent to about 21 per cent.’ The value of exports of animal products in 2016-17 was Rs 29, 533 crore, and of this buffalo meat accounted for Rs 26,308 crore. Estimates of the number of people dependent on the meat industry vary, but one estimate suggests a figure of around 22 million people.

The other sector that will be affected by the disruption that the new rules will cause is the leather industry. According to the Council for Leather Exports, the total number of people employed in the leather industry is around three million.
Sooner, rather than later, the negative impact on the livestock economy via the dislocation of the supply chain for animals will be felt in the dairy sector as well as the meat and leather industries.

A final point concerns the constitutional propriety of the May 23 Central government notification under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act. Animal markets come under the State List in the constitutional division of powers between the Union and the States. It appears, prima facie, that the Centre has no powers to make rules that would be binding on the States, even if the PCA Act is by Parliament. The Madras high court had already granted a stay on the implementation of the notification, and Supreme Court in a recent ruling has refused to vacate the stay.

In a word, the May 23 notification exemplifies the opposite of the promise of ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’ heard in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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