The government of India has sought to effectively prohibit cattle slaughter across the country through rules made under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. Though the rules do not explicitly ban slaughter, they ban the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter at agricultural markets and therefore, in effect, are attempting to put an end to all kinds of cattle slaughter across the country.
It is a constitutional misadventure on multiple grounds involving fundamental rights, separation of powers and federalism.
Killing of animals permitted under other existing
- It was the Indian Parliament that enacted The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (the Act) and that legislation empowers the Government of India (as the executive) to make rules to implement the Act. The executive’s power to make rules under a legislation cannot be exercised in a manner that is contrary to parent legislation — and the latest set of rules does exactly that.
- The Act through section 11 criminalises cruel treatment of animals by listing a wide range of activities and then, in sub-clause (3)(e) of that very provision, declares that killing an animal for food will not be an offence unless it is “accompanied by the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering”. It is explicit and clear as day that the Act does not contemplate a prohibition on the slaughter of animals for food.
Further, in sub-clause (3)(c) of the Act, it is clearly stated that killing of animals permitted under other existing laws cannot be made an offence. There exist multiple state legislations that permit the slaughter of cattle and the Government of India (GoI) cannot then use this Act to render such slaughter illegal. In issuing this latest set of rules, the GoI has exercised power it does not have under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
Another glaring anomaly in the new rules is that the government seems interested in preventing cruelty only to cattle (defined as bovine animals including the cow, bull, bullock, buffaloes, steers, heifers, calves and camels). There cannot be any constitutionally acceptable reason for leaving out chickens, pigs, sheep, goats, fish, rabbits, etc.
Different state legislations
Cow slaughter in the Directive Principles of State Policy
- Cow slaughter is regulated/prohibited across the country in different ways by various state legislations. Different state legislations have variations on the kind of cattle that can be slaughtered and when they can be slaughtered.
- That is the reason for getting only buffalo meat in Delhi, the meat of bulls and bullocks in Kerala and a complete prohibition on slaughter of cows, bulls, bullocks and buffaloes in Madhya Pradesh. Such prohibitions/regulations are achieved through separate state legislations because the power to make such laws is given exclusively to the states under the constitution.
- And there is very good constitutional logic for that. There is no religious protection for the cow or any other cattle under the constitution and the issue of cow slaughter in the Directive Principles of State Policy is tied to agriculture and the interests of animal husbandry.
- That approach flows into the constitutional logic of leaving the power of determining cow slaughter regulations exclusively to the states because issues relating to livestock are invariably tied to local conditions of agriculture, availability of fodder, customs, dietary preferences, etc.
- An all-India anti-cow slaughter legislation by Parliament is unviable because the constitution does not give Parliament the power to make such a law.
- The Bombay High Court in a constitutionally mature decision upheld the constitutional liberty to determine individual dietary preferences and struck down the prohibition contained in the Maharashtra legislation.
- The Supreme Court is yet to look at anti-cow slaughter legislations from this angle and neither has it ever before looked at the impact of anti-cow slaughter legislations on the dietary habits of social groups and on those working in the leather industry.