UP accounts for 60% of India’s buffalo meat export of Rs. 40,000 crores, employing nearly 20 lakh population. The recent move by the Uttar Pradesh Government to shut down the abattoirs has raised hackles of many liberal voices and affected parties. This is ostensibly to punish those, who have not been maintaining proper hygiene or carrying on illegal cow slaughter. But the real agenda, seems to be to enforce complete ban on cow slaughter.
Given the plural character of our polity in terms of religion, caste and food habits, it would be interesting to see how the constitutional provisions read in this regard and the stand the Supreme Court has been taking in this regard over the years. The first substantive case in this regard was Mohd. Hanif Quareshi & Others vs State of Bihar (1958) where the butchers had represented against total ban on the slaughter of all categories of animals through the Bihar Prohibition and Improvement of Animal Act, 1955. The Court was to decide whether Article 19(1)(g) which provides a fundamental right “to carry on any trade or business” to every Indian citizen would be in conflict with Article 48 which enjoins upon the State to “prohibit the slaughter of cows and calf and other milch and draught cattle”. This was an extremely sensitive case in the back drop of the constitutional assembly debate where many Hindu zealots were strongly in favour of “banning cow slaughter”. However, given the surcharged communal environment India’s decision to remain a tolerant, multi religious, secular country, this was not pursued further. Yet, cow slaughter remained and still remains a very emotive and religious issue.
The Court noted that the backbone of Indian agriculture is in a manner of speaking the cow and her progeny. Lord Linlithgow, the Viceroy, had wittily observed “the cow and the bullock have on their patient back, the whole structure of Indian agriculture”. The Court refrained from deciding the constitutional question of banning cow slaughter on the grounds of ‘sentiments of a section of the people’. Its verdict tried to strike a balance between Article 48 and 19(1)(g). While it upheld that the total ban on the slaughter of cows of all ages and calves of cows in terms of Article 48, it permitted slaughter of She-buffalo, bulls and bullocks after they had ceased to be yielding milk or of breeding or working as draught animals. The allowance given to the butchers in terms of Article 19(1)(g) was based on the economic pragmatism; as such animals are beyond their useful life and were not in the interest of the general public.
This judgment remained valid till 2005 when the Court was again called upon to adjudicate total ban on cow slaughter introduced by the Gujarat Cow Protection Act of 2005. In the State of Gujarat vs Mirzapur Case (2005) judgment, the Court did not accept the contention in the Quareshi Judgment (1958) that the bulls and bullocks would become useless after crossing a particular age. Based on the findings of National Commission Cattle Welfare (2002), the Court was of the view that no cattle outlives its utility during the life time. The cow dung was compared to ‘Kohinoor’ of India by the Learned Judges.
Interestingly the Bharat Go-Sevak Samaj appealed for total ban on cow slaughter, a year thereafter. The Court in Bharat Go-Sevak Samaj vs State of Andhra Pradesh (2006), however, clarified that Article 48 does not “enjoin upon the State to impose a total ban on slaughter of bovine cattle including cow and its progeny”. The Court was of the view that such a judicial view would be tantamount to judicial legislation and be best avoided.
It would be seen from the foregoing judgments that the view of the Supreme Court has oscillated between careful balancing between fundamental right and directive principles to one of pandering to religious extremism. In this connection, it would be interesting to reflect upon what Chief Justice of India, Shri Y.V. Chandrachud had observed in the Minerva Mills Case (1989) has “the fundamental rights and the directive principles are like two wheels of a chariot”. In that sense, the Quareshi Judgment of 1958 seems to be more pragmatic and balanced in a plural society like India.
The police raid raj on slaughter houses in Uttar Pradesh has been without giving proper notices to their owners. This has seriously affected those who are compliant of statutory requirements and yet are in receipt of rough handle of a rampaging state. This reminds one of eviction of slum dwellers in Mumbai without notice by the Bombay Municipal Corporation which was challenged by a crusading Journalist Olga Tellis. In the landmark Olga Tellis vs Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985) judgment, the Supreme Court indicted the Bombay Municipal Corporation for their proposed eviction move without notice, as they were denied rule of law under Article 14. The Court stayed the eviction one month after the end of rainy season and implored upon the State to provide alternative accommodation to the hapless pavement dwellers. This judgment is a watershed moment in our constitutional history, as it amplified inked a wider meaning to “right to life” under Article 21, to include ‘right to shelter’ and ‘livelihood’. The highhanded raids by police on abattoirs in Uttar Pradesh and likely ‘IT raids’ on the anvil in the recent Finance Bill are reminiscent of the emergency years and a wider Hindutva agenda.
The views are personal
The author teaches Constitutional Law