The Centre has got itself into a legal quagmire with its notification of controversial rules banning the sale and purchase of cattle at animal markets for slaughter. No wonder its legal representative sounded so reasonable in the Supreme Court as two pleas challenging the rules came up at a hearing on Thursday. The way the aftermath of the notification has run, the government may have to beat a retreat. The argument that it was only trying to regulate the cattle trade across India doesn’t cut ice when considering the implications and how it encouraged cow vigilantes nationwide to harass cattle traders. The inclusion of “buffalo” in the ban was a clear giveaway of the real agenda. The rules, seen as a clever ruse to effect a cattle slaughter ban, gave rise to the suspicion that the NDA was pushing its Hindutva agenda by forcing people to turn vegetarian.
The Supreme Court didn’t stay the rules, but the Madurai bench of the Madras high court had already done so. The Centre also pledged that the rules wouldn’t be enforced till the final verdict. The two petitioners seem to have put up a strong case questioning the rules as impinging on fundamental rights, including freedom of conscience and religion and right to livelihood. The NDA rules less than half the states, which means the rules will hardly be enforced in others to regulate livestock markets. Cattle trade is a state subject and four key meat-eating states have signalled their displeasure. If the Centre is serious about farmers’ welfare, it must scrap the rules so that the meat trade industry flourishes.