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Quiet backtrack

Editorial |

It is not easy to determine if the reported decision of the ministry of environment and forests to roll back its controversial notification of May 23 restricting the movement of cattle is an admission of the impractical nature of that order ~ or a confirmation of the allegations that the move was a “backdoor ban” on the slaughter of bovine cattle, widely consumed by the minority communities in several parts of the country. Suspicions that it was the latter would be bolstered by the ministry not making any formal announcement, although when the controversy was raging the minister, Mr Harsh Vardhan, had tried to assuage ruffled feathers by saying the matter would be “reviewed”.

To all practical purposes the move had been defeated when the Supreme Court ordered nationwide application of a “stay” granted by the High Court in Tamil Nadu. The cynical would hold the view that the government had been merely “testing the waters”, hence the quiet backtrack after the courts did not endorse the notification.

Although no fresh orders have as yet been issued, a senior official of the environment ministry has said “we sent a file to the law ministry earlier this week stating that we are withdrawing the notification due to several issues and will be revising it”. What the revision will entail remains unclear, no time-frame has been fixed for the position being finalised. The ministry had also sought feedback from the states. But much damage ~ or mischief ~ has been done since gau rakshaks had interpreted the order as licence to run amuck. They are still doing so, hence it would be relevant to ask if that genie can ever be put back in the bottle?

It is not just those who consume “buff” who were irked by the order. The livestock economy was thrown out of gear for it was difficult to establish where animals sold at cattle fair were ultimately destined. The spin-off on the leather trade was no less severe. Since transporting cattle became risky in the face of marauding “vigilantes”, farmers were forced to feed animals that had long outlived their “utility”.

Although livestock and dairy farming, strictly speaking, come under the purview of the agriculture ministry, Krishi Bhawan opted for silence ~ as is now customary across the administrative spectrum on issues with a religious tinge. Perhaps the silence on the “revision” is because with a major election in hand it is deemed undesirable to rock the communal boat, either way.

There is clear need for the authorities to be specific about the sale and eating of buffalo meat (which is exported in considerable quantities) being legal and unrestricted: as well as to promote the opening of hygienic abattoirs and meat-processing units. As long as the grey area is permitted to exist the “vigilantes” will have a field day.