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The Ghastly Case of Animal Slaughter

The Ghastly Case of Animal Slaughter

By Jyoti Singh

In the recent times, animal slaughter especially for religious purposes has gained immense attention and has been a constant subject of scrutiny and wonder. The debate became prominent after the present government came into power in 2014 and made the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Market) Rules, 2017[1] come into force w.e.f 23.05. 2017. The notification was considered to be contrary to the Parent Act, i.e the Prevention of Cruelty Act, 1960[2]. The Parent Act does not prevent the slaughtering of animals for food, on the condition that the slaughtering was not accompanied by unnecessary pain or suffering. The central government made the rules in exercise of the powers granted under section 38(1) of the Prevention of Cruelty Act, 1960[3], which states that:

“The Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette and subject to the condition of previous publication, make rules to carry out the purposes of this Act.”

The rule on the other hand imposes an absolute ban on slaughter of cattle. It is to be noted that it is a well settled principle of law that if rules made under an Act are contrary to the Parent Act, the rules shall be void and inoperative.


Constitution and cattle slaughter- The Pan Indian issue regarding cattle slaughter is in fact a very old one. Cow slaughter was one of the most highly debated issues during in the framing of the Indian constitution, immediately after independence.  A member of the Constituent Assembly Seth Govind Das, considered it to be a “civilisational problem from the time of Lord Krishna”, and called for the prohibition of cow slaughter to be made with the prohibition of untouchability, under Part III of the Indian Constitution which deals with fundamental rights. He was supported by other members of the Constituent Assembly, such as Shibban Lal Saksena, Thakur Das Bhargava, Ramnarayan Singh, Ram Sahai, and Chaudhari Ranbir Singh. Proponents of a cow slaughter ban put forward  a mix of cultural and economic arguments. They invoked the “sentiments of thirty crores of population” on the one hand, and the indispensability of cattle in an agrarian economy on the other hand. However, there was a slight issue regarding the fact that fundamental rights are inherent in human beings, and not animals per se. After much debate and discussion, it was agreed that the provision would find a place in the constitution but only as a Directive Principle under Article 48, which would not be enforceable before the court of law. The Article also did not clearly prohibit cattle slaughter, which left many unhappy. The Drafting committee was criticized for adopting backdoor tactics. The article states:

48. Organisation of agriculture and animal husbandry.—The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.[4]

Even the Muslims representatives in the Constituent Assembly criticized the move as it was not clear and specific and the Muslims could not understand India’s stand on cow slaughter.

·      Infringement of fundamental rights and the Supreme Court’s View- 

The validity of slaughter ban made by states was questioned before the Supreme Court repeatedly. The Supreme Court took varied stance on the issue. The Petitioners before the honourable court argued that such ban interfered not only with their fundamental right to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business under article 19 (1)  (g) but also right to livelihood under  article 21. In Olga Tellis vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation[5], the SC had observed that if right to livelihood is not treated as a part of the constitutional right to life, the easiest way to derive a person of his right to life, would be by depriving him of his right to livelihood. Further, such ban also violated the right to religious freedom under Article 25. However, until recently the Supreme Court continued uphold the validity of these laws based on economic considerations like agricultural output and production of milch yields.  It was argued by leading journalists and human rights activists that the Supreme Court like the Drafting committee was not ready to shatter or pierce through the façade of the Great Indian Secularism.

A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, in 1958, in the matter of  Hanif Qureshi vs State of Bihar[6] , decided on the validity of the Bihar Preservation and Improvement of Animals Act, 1956. The impugned Act imposed a total ban on the slaughter of all categories of animals belonging to the species of bovine cattle. The petitioners challenged the Act on the grounds of violation of right to freedom of religion, right to freedom of trade and occupation and also argued that the total ban was not good for general public.The Supreme Court ruled that a total ban on the slaughter of bovine cattle was reasonable, valid and in consonance with the directive principles under Article 48.It also observed that a ban on the slaughter of she-buffaloes or breeding bulls or working bullocks as long as they are capable of being used as milch or draught cattle was also reasonable and valid. However, the apex court held that a blanket ban keeping uneconomic cattle under its purview was unreasonable, unjustified and violated a butcher's right to freedom of trade and occupation.

In Abdul Hakim Quraishi & Ors. V. State of Bihar[7], It was held the ban on the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and she-buffaloes below the age of 20 or 25 years was not a reasonable restriction in the interest of general public. It was void as a bull, bullock or buffalo did not remain useful after the age of 15 years and whatever little use it may have then was greatly offset by the economic disadvantages of maintaining and feeding unserviceable cattle.


A ban was put on the slaughter of bulls and bullocks below the age of 16 years under the Bombay Animal Preservation Act, 1954. In  Haji Usmanbhai Hasanbhai Qureshi  vs State of Gujarat[8], the court held that the prescription of the age of sixteen years of s. 5 of the Bombay Animal Preservation  Act, 1954 cannot be  said  to  be  an unreasonable restriction as a balance which has to be struck  between public  interest,  that  required  useful animals to  be preserved  and permitting  the appellants  to carry on  their trade  and profession  as mentioned  in Art. 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.

In the year 1996, the state of Madhya Pradesh imposed a total ban on the slaughter of bulls and bullocks, which the Supreme Court quashed in the case Hasmattullah vs State Of Madhya Pradesh And Others[9] . The Supreme Court stuck to its view that these animals were useful only up to the age of 16 years and their slaughter thereafter could not be banned. Referring to Article 48(a), the Court observed that absolute ban on cattle slaughter of bulls and bullocks is not necessary to comply with article 48 and thus the court has to strike a balance between the right of the butchers to carry on their trade and public interest.

Recently in a 2005 judgment of the Supreme Court, in the case State Of Gujarat vs Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab [10], it was held that with the growing adoption of non-conventional energy sources like biogas plants, even the waste material has come to assume considerable value in the present times. After the cattle cease to breed or become too old to do work, they still continue to give dung for fuel, manure and biogas, and therefore, they cannot be said to be useless. The backbone of Indian agriculture is the cow and their progeny. It was, therefore, considered necessary to impose total prohibition against slaughter of progeny of cow.

It has been held in in Hinsa Virodhak Sangh vs Mirzapur Moti Kuresh Jamat[11], and In Re Ramlila Incident[12] that what one eats is one’s personal affair and forms part of right to privacy under Article 21.

·      Animal slaughter and the Indian Economy-

India is the leading exporters of buffalo meat in the world. The meat industry employs over 22 lakh people over country. According to the report of Department of Animal Husbandry annual report for 2016-17 , share of cattle meat in the overall meat production is only 5 per cent. Buffalo meat constitutes about 23 per cent of the total meat production. Poultry meat contributes about 46 per cent of total meat production in the country.

After new definition of cattle under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Market) Rules, 2017, buffalo meat is now to be treated as part of cattle meat. As most of the states have banned cow slaughter, the Indian beef is largely constituted by the buffalo meat, which is also called carabeef popularly.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, India and Brazil are the top two exporters of beef or buffalo meat.The US Department of Agriculture says that Indian beef industry has an export volume of over USD 4 billion.


It is also a matter of concern that the total livestock population consisting of Cattle, Buffalo, Sheep, Goat, pig, Horses & Ponies, Mules, Donkeys, Camels, Mithun and Yak in the country was 512.05 million numbers in 2012and the total livestock population has decreased by about 3.33% over the previous census, i.e in 2007.As per the livestock census of 2012, the population a decline of 4.1 per cent in the cattle population since the last census in 2007. Buffalo population registered a growth of over 3 per cent in the same period.


According to the All India meat and livestock exporters association, ban on sale of cattle for slaughter affects the Indian farmers immensely. It is estimated that the maintenance of an uneconomic cattle costs around Rs 40,000 a year which is a big cost for small farmers to pay for maintenance of the animal which is not economically productive.

But it is also to be noted that with the growth in production and export of meat products in india, india is also the leading producer of milk in the world, followed by United States of America, china and Pakistan. India is also one of the top leather producing states in the world. According to the, Indian leather industry produces a total of 1,397.5 million square feet of leather – 52.4 million of which fall off to heavy bovine leather. However, India produces roughly equal amounts of bovine, and sheep and goats light leather. 674,25 million and 670.85 million square feet respectively[13]. India also ranks second in footwear and leather garments production in the world. India accounts for 9 per cent of the world's total footwear production. About 22 lakh people in India are employed in the cattle slaughter business directly or indirectly. Leather industries employ even greater - 35 lakh - number of people.

It is to be noted that in some states cow slaughter is completely banned but in some others it is permitted under a license, while in many other states there are no regulations regarding the same. However, in all states the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 applies.In Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Delhi, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand cow slaughter is banned.In states like Assam, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, slaughter of cow is allowed requisite certificates from appropriate authorities.There is no ban on slaughter of cattle in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. In the state of Kerala cattle over 10 years of age can be slaughtered.





[5]  1986 AIR 180, 1985 SCR Supl. (2) 51

[6] 1958 AIR 731, 1959 SCR 629

[7] , [1961] 2 S.C.R. 610

[8]  1986 AIR 1213, 1986 SCR (2) 719

[9] AIR 1996 SC 2076, JT 1996 (5) SC 295, (1996) 4 SCC 391, 1996 Supp 2 SCR 755, 1996 (2) UJ 478 SC

[10] 2005 8 SCC 534

[11] [11](2008) 5 SCC 33

[12] (2012) 5 SCC


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