Economy and Business

Retrograde law: Restricting cattle trade will hurt farmers and threaten jobs

Last week the environment ministry introduced rules to regulate cattle trade which will effectively kill the buffalo meat industry.

May 29, 2017
Last week the environment ministry introduced rules to regulate cattle trade which will effectively kill the buffalo meat industry. This will be the immediate impact. Subsequently, it will increase already high levels of stress on agriculture as livestock trade – on which draconian restrictions will be placed – is an essential component of the agrarian economy. This law will have a harmful impact on farmers and industries which use livestock products as input. In addition, it undermines federalism as it encroaches on the domain of states.
 
The rule, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets), prohibits sale of cattle for slaughter. The scope of the rules covers buffaloes and camels. Overall trade in livestock has thereby been squeezed, as when sale of animals takes place it is difficult to determine what purpose it is for. Trade that has been legitimate for centuries will now be burdened by layers of bureaucracy and red tape, which will catalyse corruption. India’s thriving buffalo meat exports, which recorded Rs 26,684 crore in 2015-16, will be crippled by the move. It doesn’t end there. Milch cattle have a limited productive period. The livestock economy therefore depends on the farmer’s ability to sell cattle subsequently. Other industries such as meat, leather, soap, automobile grease among others, use livestock or its by-products as inputs. Therefore, restricting livestock trade impairs other industries and threatens millions of jobs.
 
Moreover, Article 246 (3) of the Constitution gives states exclusive powers to legislate on preservation of cattle. By encroaching on this domain, we are headed towards greater friction and contestation between Centre and states. To make matters worse, vigilante groups which have functioned unchecked may choke even the limited livestock trade permitted by the new rule. Irrationality in laws promotes overall levels of irrationality in society.
 
The new rule will not be effective right away. Therefore, the government should annul it before adverse economic and political consequences (including for BJP) show up. The argument that the rules aim to prevent cruelty to animals is unconvincing – they will in fact promote cruelty to animals when farmers are forced to resort to underhand means to dispose of unproductive cattle. The Indian economy today produces few jobs relative to the number of young people coming into labour markets. It is, therefore, imperative that the government not introduce rules that destroy even jobs that exist currently.
 
Times of India, May 29, 2017

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