For the best experience, open
on your mobile browser.

Beef over Cattle Trade

As Karnataka cattle traders cry foul over anti-slaughter act, the spin-offs of cattle protection laws on commerce become hard to ignore. As the subject of agriculture and animal husbandry comes under the state list, there is no omnibus law in the country which deals with cattle protection and slaughter norms. Instead, states have the power to enact individual cattle laws.
02:30 PM May 12, 2023 IST | India Legal
beef over cattle trade

By Sanjay Raman Sinha

April 2023: “Anti-slaughter Act has killed economy: Karnataka cattle traders”
March 2023: “Maharashtra sets up commission to implement beef ban law”
January 2023: “Cattle smuggling in Uttarakhand now punishable under Gangster Act”
January 2023: “Problems on earth will be solved if cow slaughter is stopped: Gujarat Court”

These newspaper headline snippets provide a snapshot of the multi-dimensional aspects of cattle laws in India. As the subject of agriculture and animal husbandry comes under the state list, there is no omnibus law in the country which deals with cattle protection and slaughter norms. Instead, states have the power to enact individual cattle laws. The laws vary in penal powers and in extent and focus of cattle protection. In the name of cattle protection, transportation, commerce and slaughter of cattle have been brought in the legislative purview.


The Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act, 2020, provides “for a comprehensive legislation for the prevention of slaughter and preservation of cattle in the state of Karnataka.” The law makes it illegal to buy, sell, transport, slaughter and trade all cattle, including cows, bulls, buffaloes and oxen. The only exceptions are for buffaloes above the age of 13 and terminally ill cattle, but only after certification from a veterinarian. The penalties are very strong. The Act provides for imprisonment up to seven years and fines between Rs 50,000 and Rs 5 lakh for the guilty.

An important rider is cattle transportation. The Act says: “No person shall transport or offer for transport or cause to be transported by whatever means any cattle from any place within the State to any other place within the State for slaughter, except for bonafide animal husbandry purpose and in accordance with state government provisions.” The issue of cattle transportation is vital because this precisely has led to weaponization of the Act in many states. Gau rakshaks under the garb of cow vigilantes have unleashed violence in many states. The gory tales and visuals of mob lynching are not new, but disturbing.


In Karnataka, the back story of the Act is political. The law against cattle slaughter was a poll promise of the BJP before it came to power in 2019. The Act may have propitiated the saffron constituency, but it has hit where it hurts the most—the economy.


The cattle traders, leather workers, those engaged in the skin-curing and tannery industries are struck by the spectre of pauperization as their trade gets threatened to be wiped out. Small farmers, Dalits and poor Muslims have been left holding the short end of the stick.


Cattle slaughter in India, especially cow slaughter, is a sensitive issue. More so because Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism look up to cow reverentially. A 2005 Supreme Court verdict upheld the constitutional validity of anti-cow slaughter laws enacted by various state governments of India. Around 20 out of 28 states in India had various laws regulating the act of slaughtered cows, prohibiting the slaughter or sale of cows. Recently Uttarakhand Director General of Police Ashok Kumar had announced that culprits of illegal smuggling of cows will be punished under the Gangster Act.

The deliberations on cow protection started way before Independence when the Constituent Assembly deliberated on the draft of the Constitution. Indian lawmakers debated on cow protection and had differing views on the subject. Interestingly in the initial draft of the Constitution, there was no provision relating to cow protection or prohibiting cow slaughter. On November 24, 1948, Thakurdas Bhargava, a Congress member from Punjab, introduced an amendment for the addition of such a provision in the Directive Principles of State Policy. This was included in Part IV of the Constitution as Article 48. It states: “The state shall endeavour to prohibit slaughtering and smuggling of cattle, calves and other milch and draught cattle. The state shall take necessary actions to control trade of cattle in livestock markets for purposes of inhuman slaughter.”


The Directive Principles are not enforceable by law, but serve as guidelines for government policy. Thus, the states have made Article 48 functional after passing laws prohibiting cow slaughter. The ground situation of cattle legislation is chequered. Some states permit the slaughter of cattle with riders like “fit-for-slaughter” certificate, others completely ban cattle slaughter, while there is no restriction in a few states.
In 2017, the Ministry of Environment, Government of India, imposed a ban on the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter at animal markets across the country under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. However, the Supreme Court annulled the ban on sale of cattle, giving relief to beef and leather industries.

In October 2020, the Allahabad High Court said it was worried about the “frequent misuse” of the provisions of the Uttar Pradesh Cow Slaughter Act, 1955, and said the law was being used to implicate innocent persons in the state. The infamous Mohammad Akhlaq murder of September 2015 in the Bisada village of Dadri town in western Uttar Pradesh is a gruesome reminder of venom over beef.
Cattle protection laws have obvious spin-offs too. There has been a significant, recorded increase in the stray cattle population in states with anti-cattle slaughter laws and ban on inter-state transportation of cattle. Cow shelter programmes are simply not sufficient enough to cope with the overflow of stray cattle. As per the IndiaSpend report of July 2017, due to Uttar Pradesh’s slaughterhouse raids, butchers, farmers and traders got hit while big businesses have prospered. There has been a rise in the population of crossbreeds and a decline in indigenous breeds of cattle. Curbs on cow slaughter have hit the rural poor. Maintaining old animals is costly for landless and poor peasant households. When financial incentive of selling the old cattle to abattoir ceases, the poor shift to other forms of investment rather than cattle. On a macro scale, around 80% animals for slaughter are bought in the marketplace. The cattle slaughter ban impacts the whole industry. The slaughter ban has the potential to negatively affect the dairy industry as well.

Cattle laws in India should be driven by dictates of commerce as well, rather than guided solely by political ideology.

Tags :