Karnataka beef ban: Beyond restaurant menu, here's how things will change

Incidentally, Karnataka’s new anti-slaughter Bill is more stringent than Maharashtra’s beef ban, which allows for the slaughter of buffaloes
beef ban
beef ban

The Karnataka government on Wednesday hurriedly passed the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill 2020 in the state Assembly even as the opposition Congress and JD(S) vociferously objected. Subject to the Bill being passed by the Legislative Council and subsequently signed by the Governor, beef as a choice of food will no longer be legal in the state, though buff meat (buffalo meat) will be available under certain conditions. 

Other than denying citizens the choice of food, the proposed law has wide-ranging social and economic implications.

Difference from existing law

According to the draft of the new law, all cattle — cow, calf of a cow, bull, bullock are prohibited from being slaughtered. The only exception being a male or female buffalo above the age of 13 will be allowed to be slaughtered. Penalty for any other slaughter will range from Rs 50,000 to Rs 10 lakh per animal and three to seven years’ imprisonment, according to the draft. In another controversial provision, the law gives the police powers of search and seizure on the basis of “reason to believe” that cattle is being sold, purchased or disposed of for the purpose of slaughter.

The existing Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, 1964 had banned the slaughter of cows and calf of she-buffalo. The Act, however, had allowed bull,  bullock, buffalo-male or female to be slaughtered if the animal was above 12 years of age, or if it was incapacitated for breeding, draught or giving milk due to injury, deformity or any other cause.

But the new draft allows slaughter of any cattle (other than buffalo over 13 years of age) only for experimental or research purposes such as for vaccines or serums. Cattle can be slaughtered if it is certified by an authorised veterinary officer in the interest of public health, and if the animal is suffering from any disease and is deemed contagious or dangerous to other cattle. 

Incidentally, Karnataka’s new anti-slaughter Bill is more stringent than Maharashtra’s beef ban, which allows for the slaughter of buffaloes. The BJP government in Maharashtra had in 2015 banned the slaughter of bulls and bullocks (in addition to cows and calves). 

How the Bill affects farmers

Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha president Kodihalli Chandrashekar said the Bill is anti-farmer and has been brought in keeping electoral politics in mind.

“Animal husbandry and farming go hand in hand. When a cow or buffalo stops producing milk, farmers sell it. Now we have to take care of it till it dies. If the cattle produce male calves, we generally sell them. Now we can’t do that and this will add to existing agricultural costs. How many loans can we take?” he asked.

He added, “This Bill was passed only to appease the BJP’s electorate. We condemn this move by the government.”

‘Ironic when India is largest beef exporter’

Speaking to TNM, former MP and Congress spokesperson VS Ugrappa said that the introduction of the Bill itself was unnecessary as there is already an existing law. He said that if the Bill does become law, the party will consider moving the courts to challenge it.

“Since 1964, there is already a cow protection act in Karnataka, so what is the need of bringing such a Bill now. Secondly, the Supreme Court has made it clear, in cases related to Bihar and Gujarat, that cows and bulls that are more than 15 years old and not useful for agriculture or milking can be sold by farmers to slaughterhouses,” he told TNM.

Ugrappa added it is ironic that the BJP is advocating banning beef whereas India is one of the largest exporters of beef in the entire world. “If at all they really want to stop it, the Union government has to take a stand on stopping these beef exports. And importantly, most of these exporters are from Gujarat and followers of Amit Shah and Modi,” he said.

He added that Article 19 of the Constitution ensures citizens of India the choice of profession and means of livelihood (animal husbandry) and with this law they are taking this right away from them. He further said, “The BJP should have applied their mind regarding the Indian agricultural economy. I’m also a farmer, we own bullocks and if they’re not useful, we sell them at low prices and add some money to buy younger bulls. Now what will a farmer do with a useless cow or a bull? So this government is trying to influence extreme religious sentiments with this political gimmick. Otherwise there is no scientific reason or application of mind in this Bill.”

He noted, “Also it’s a choice of food for some as it’s often cheap and nutritious at the same time. Now tomorrow if the government says you can’t eat rice, will it be okay? Even pig and fish are also symbols of god according to religious texts, so will the government now ban that too?”

‘Bid to corporatise farming’

Vinay Sreenivasan, a Bengaluru-based advocate-activist, said that the Bill was unnecessary coming at a time when the state was going through a lot of crises.

He said, “This Bill will result in further corporatisation of farming in the state. This is in alignment with all the other farm laws that are being bulldozed by the state and Union government. And it has nothing to do with Hindu sentiment or things like that. The practice of farmers selling their cattle for slaughter has been there for years. This law takes away animal husbandry from the farmers, especially in times of drought and floods. This is nothing but an assault on farmers both by the state and Union government in favour of corporatisation of farm practices. Moreover, we’re going through an inflation crisis, and beef is the cheapest form of protein and this law takes away the right of whoever wants to eat it.”

Vinay added, “Look at the search and seizure provisions, it gives anybody higher than the rank of a sub-inspector the right to search based on suspicion. This is draconian and a means to criminalise Muslims, Dalits and other minorities for their choice of food.”

He further said this is a diversionary tactic by the government when they have failed to deliver basic governance to the people. He pointed out that ASHA workers have not been paid their salaries and malnutrition has increased across the state since the lockdown. He also said the government is not paying attention to pertinent issues like workers in the informal sectors unable to pay their rent or their children’s school fees.

Congress protests 

While the contents of the Bill itself is controversial and has been thoroughly opposed by the opposition parties, the manner in which the Bill was tabled was also contentious.

Karnataka state Congress President and former minister DK Shivakumar also said that the Bill was not part of the day’s agenda as discussed in the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) headed by the Speaker, and the government had assured that no new Bills would be introduced.

“We were thinking that what was decided in the BAC will be followed. This is a violation, this government has no manners. Bill copies were not given to us. Even the Minister didn’t have the bill. This has happened through government pressure. This is against our parliamentary system of democracy. They don’t have faith in this democracy or the Constitution,” former Chief Minister and Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah said. The party has also threatened to boycott the next session of the Assembly.

(With inputs from Theja Ram and Prajwal Bhat)

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