Cattle Slaughter in India and Anti-Slaughter Laws – Issues, Challenges, Way Ahead

cow slaughtering in india upsc essay notes mindmap

Though laws banning slaughtering of cows are not unique to India, the issue is highly contentious among its people – leading to social, economic and political implications across the country. The Indian community should come together to ensure that the needs of all are provided for, especially when there is a growing agrarian crisis as well as escalating social tensions within the country.

cattle slaughtering in india

What does the Indian Constitution say about cow slaughtering?

  • Article 48 of the Indian Constitution is one of the Directive Principles of State Policy.
  • The provision under this article urges states to take measures to preserve and improve breeds and ban the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.
  • This provision is limited in scope because:
  1. It only relates to the prohibiting of “slaughter” of cattle and not other acts.
  2. Its purpose is only to organise agricultural and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines.
  3. It does not propose a blanket ban.
  • The Constituent Assembly has rejected the demand for a blanket ban on cow slaughter and beef consumption.

What is the rationale behind the anti-slaughtering laws?s

  • Religious sentiments: Hindus consider cow as an object of veneration since time immemorial.
  • Economic needs: Cows play numerous critical roles in the agrarian economy by providing products like milk, fuel etc., and agricultural services like pulling the plough.

Most probable and repeated topics of upsc prelims

Karnataka’s Anti-Cow Slaughter Bill:

What is the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2020?

  • The Bill provides punishment of 3-7 years imprisonment if an individual is found to be involved in illegal transportation, smuggling and atrocities and slaughtering of cattle within the state.
  • The individual will also be fined with 50,000 to Rs.5 lakh for the first offence.
  • The word “cattle” under this Bill includes cow, calves of a cow, bullock and buffalo.
  • The Bill provides an exception in the case of male and female buffalo above the age of 13.
  • It also allows the police to search and seize based on “reason to believe” that the cattle are being sold, purchased or disposed of for slaughter.

How is the Bill more stringent than the existing law?

  • The existing Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, 1964 prohibited the slaughter of cows and calf of she-buffalo.
  • However, this Act permitted slaughtering of bull, bullock, male buffalo and female buffalo above the age of 12 or incapacitated for breeding and draught or giving milk due to injury, deformity or any other cause.
  • In contrast, the new Bill allows slaughter of any cattle only in cases of:
  1. For experimental or research like for vaccines or serums
  2. Certification by the veterinary officer in case of public health emergency and contagious diseases.
  3. The new Bill is more stringent than Maharashtra’s beef ban, as the latter permits buffalo slaughter.

What are criticisms against this Bill?

  1. Karnataka already has a cow protection law.
  2. The provision allowing search and seizure gives anybody higher than the rank of sub-inspector to search based on suspicion. This puts minorities at risk.
  3. The livelihood of more than 40 lakh people in the state, who are dependent on beef and related trade, are expected to be impacted.
  4. Unlike the earlier anti-cow slaughter laws in other states, the 2020 Bill includes a ban on slaughtering of buffalos. Under the previous laws, farmers were given the option to change course and rear buffalos to reduce the economic impact. The Bill does not provide such an option.
  5. The Bill is against farmers’ interests as the need to take care of the cattle lacking economic benefits exacerbates the agrarian crisis.
  6. Generally, a cross-bred cow attains puberty in 17 to 18 months and is ready for insemination. It can deliver its first calf after a gestation period of 9 to 10 months and starts producing milk at 27 to 28 months. With the post-partum rest period of 3 to 4 months factored in, the cow is able to produce calves every 13 to 14 months.
  7. Farmers generally dispose of cows after 5 to 6 calving as the milk yield starts dropping by then and the returns turn uneconomical in comparison to feeding and maintenance costs. By this period, the cow is about 7 to 8 years old.
  8. The same goes for buffalos too – it takes even longer to calve first and have 15-16 months inter-calving period. Their productive age is also not beyond 9-10 years.
  9. The Bill allows culling only above the age of 13 years. Thus, it is uneconomical for farmers as beyond the 13 years, the animal ceases to even have any salvage value.
  10. The small amount that the farmer may receive is more than offset by the cost of feeding the animal’s unproductive years.

Which are the other states that have anti-cattle slaughtering laws?

  • The “Prevention, protection and improvement of stock and prevention of animal diseases, veterinary training and practice” is the entry 15 of the State List of the Seventh Schedule of Indian Constitution.
  • This means that the State legislatures have exclusive power to enact laws for the prevention of slaughter and preservation of cattle.
  • The laws governing cattle slaughter varies from state to state.
  • While some states allow the slaughter of cattle with restrictions like the “fit-for-slaughter” certificate issuance, others enforce a complete ban on cattle slaughter or no ban at all.
  • Kerala, West Bengal and North-Eastern states like Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim do not have laws to ban cattle-slaughtering.
  • Several other states and UTs like Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Assam, Bihar, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh have banned cattle slaughtering.
  • In many states, the slaughter laws bring the onus of proving innocence to the accused. These laws make possession illegal, irrespective of the amount possessed and whether it is for sale or not. Such provisions tend to be stricter.
  • In addition, offences under some of these laws are made non-bailable.

What is the impact on anti-slaughter laws on cows?

  • According to the 2019 Livestock Census, anti-slaughter laws have an adverse impact on cows.
  • For instance, between 2012 and 2019, states with cow slaughter laws like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and UP witnessed a decline in the number of cattle by 10.07%, 4.42% and 3.93% respectively.
  • In contrast, West Bengal, where cattle slaughtering is legal if the veterinary officer certifies the animal as fit to be slaughtered, saw a massive increase in the number of cattle in the state by 18%. Thus, the state has the largest cattle population in the country.
  • With unproductive cattle not allowed to be culled, farmers let them loose, giving rise to the problem of large herds of feral cows that have caused adverse economic impact by damaging crops and posed threats to people by creating road accidents.
  • In 2012-2019, UP (17.34%), Madhya Pradesh (95%) and Gujarat (17.59%) witnessed a substantial increase in their stray cattle population.
  • In West Bengal, this number has fallen by 73.59%.
  • In states where the culling of buffalo is legal, there has been a sharp increase in its population. In 2012-19, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and UP saw their buffalo numbers rise because of dairy farmers’ preferences to them over cows following the enactment of anti-cow slaughtering laws.

What are the arguments against the anti-slaughter laws?

Against Article 19:

  • These laws are against Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, which provides Indians with the right to choose profession and means of livelihood (animal husbandry).

Criminalising beef consumption:

  • Beef is often considered a cheap and nutritious source of food, which is especially vital during the recent inflation crisis.
  • These laws indirectly criminalise beef consumption – making beef consumers (Dalits, Muslims, Christians and Adivasis) be cast as criminals. Beef consumption has always been a dividing factor between cow worshippers and beef eaters.
  • According to the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), in 2011-12, 2 crore people in India eat beef/buffalo meat.
  • Earlier, the National Commission on Cattle, which was set up in 2002 by Vajpayee government to promote cow slaughter ban, stated that extreme poverty and customary practices in the coastal regions and among some sections of scheduled tribes, scheduled castes and other backward castes make them beef eaters.
  • Indians are already among the most malnourished people on the planet and the nutritional standards in the country are worsening in the past few years within the country.

Dairy Industry:

  • The Indian dairy industry has an annual turnover of Rs.6.5 lakh crore – making it the country’s largest agricultural product.
  • Dairy farming in India functions on small margins. It is vital to weed out unhealthy cows to make limited resources available for healthy and productive cattle.
  • 70% of India’s bovines are owned by marginal, small and middle-level farmers. They earn more from dairy than rice and wheat put together.
  • These farmers are forced out of the Indian Dairy industry by these laws because of their high dependence on slaughterhouses, leather industry and beef consumers.
  • Thus, these laws have the potential to make this sector be dominated by corporates/cooperatives.

Impact on other related sectors:

  • Besides farmers, other stakeholders like tanning, meat and leather industries depend on cattle slaughter.
  • Those employed by these industries will be adversely impacted.

Social Implications:

  • These laws equate religious worship and cow protection with slaughter bans, with little to no consideration of the social implications to the vulnerable communities.
  • This has led to the growing instances of mob lynching of beef consumers.
  • The states that did not ban slaughtering saw no incidents of lynching.
  • States that have laws to prohibit only the slaughter of cattle witnessed a lesser number of incidents when compared to states that banned slaughter, transportation, sale, purchase and possession of beef.

Impact on indigenous cattle breeds:

  • Implementation of slaughter laws along with the policies of mechanisation via green, white and livestock revolution prioritises dairying over the multipurpose role of indigenous cattle breeds like milk, draught, manure and beef.
  • This has led to a decline in the breeding of diverse cattle breeds.
  • The sustainability of indigenous cattle breeds like Hallikar, Amrit Mahal, Khillar etc., are threatened by the blanket ban on slaughter.

What is the Supreme Court’s view on this matter?

  • In a 2005 judgement, the Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutional validity of anti-cow slaughter laws enacted by different states within the country.
  • The apex court rejected the arguments of violation of rights to trade and business and the right to freedom religion.
  • Later, the Supreme Court stayed the Central government’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017, which restricted slaughter.
  • The top court held that slaughtering of cattle doesn’t amount to cruelty.
  • This judgement looked at the economic aspect of the issue – it prohibited slaughtering of useful animals and not those that became economically useless.

Way forward:

  • There is a need to strike a balance between the religious sentiments as well as the economic and social needs of the people.
  • In this regard, other states can take the leaf out of West Bengal’s book of providing to “fit-to-be-slaughtered” provision in their anti-slaughter laws so that there is no illegal trading by distressed farmers and unhygienic practices by illegal slaughterhouses.
  • This provision should be supplemented by a scheme that provides financial assistance to those choosing to keep/adopt uneconomical cattle due to their religious sentiments.
  • If these two aspects go hand in hand, there is a possibility of catering to the needs of all parties concerned.
  • While scheme to allow the adoption of cattle enables safeguarding of religious sentiments of Hindus, the “fit-to-be-slaughtered” provision will allow farmers to either sell without fear or choose to keep them due to the financial security.
  • These two aspects will also ensure the safety of indigenous breeds, whose very existence is under threat due to these strict anti-slaughtering laws.
  • It will ensure hygienic slaughtering practices, prevent illegal smuggling and address the issue of lynching.
  • Thus, the interests of all stakeholders are safeguarded, without threatening the unity of India’s diverse groups of people.
  • As for the arguments favouring beef as a cheap source of protein, one can consider the following alternatives:
  1. Plant-based protein promotion: Plants require lesser resources and are environmentally friendly when compared to cattle rearing. In addition, they do not have an adverse impact on health unlike beef, which increases the risks of total mortality, cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes.
  2. Cultured meats are produced in bioreactors without the slaughter of an animal. Numerous research firms are developing cultivated chicken, beef and pork to reduce the impact of industrial livestock production on the climate crisis as well as to provide cleaner, drug-free and cruelty-free meat. Investment on research in this front can be increased.


India, being a country that houses diverse religions and ideologies, must set an example to the world by ensuring a united front while facing contentious issues like religious sentiments and economic needs. Social and economic issues arising from the cattle laws must be considered in a rational manner with consideration to all concerned parties.

Practice question for mains:

Critically examine the viability of anti-cattle slaughtering laws. How are they influencing the Indian society? (250 words)

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1 year ago

It’s mentioned in article 48 of dpsp and not A 49

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