Effect of new slaughter laws: number of cattle drops in BJP-ruled states

Written by Harish Damodaran | New Delhi |

Updated: December 12, 2020 7:05:36 am





Between 2012 and 2019, UP, MP, Gujarat and Maharashtra (which, until a year ago, was a state ruled by the BJP) saw their cattle populations decline. However, these same states recorded increases in the number of buffalo. (Archive)

Karnataka has become the latest state ruled by the BJP to implement a strict draft law against the slaughter of cattle. On Friday, the state government said it would bring an ordinance to implement the provisions of the bill, which was approved by the Assembly on Wednesday but could not be approved by the Legislative Council before the end of the session. The most striking feature of this bill is its definition of “cattle.” It includes not only cows, bulls, oxen, and calves, but also male and female buffalo. That makes it a comprehensive bill against the slaughter of cattle.

This is different from the laws of other states, the scope of which is restricted only to the Bos taurus species. The latter include cows, bulls, oxen and calves, but not buffalo, which belong to a separate species of Bubalus bubalis. The term “cattle” in animal taxonomy covers only Bos taurus. Cattle and buffalo are together called “bovines”.

Before Karnataka, it was Maharashtra, under the previous government of Devendra Fadnavis, led by the BJP, who had enacted the most rigorous anti-killing legislation. The Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act 2015 made the killing of bulls and oxen a crime, punishable by a jail term of up to five years. Previously, the killing ban was limited to cows and only attracted six months in prison.

The Karnataka Cattle Killing Prevention and Preservation Bill of the BS Yediyurappa administration goes beyond that of Maharashtra. For the first time, anyone who euthanizes or offers to euthanize, including buffalo, can be charged with committing a recognizable crime and imprisoned for no less than three and up to seven years. No other state, including Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh and Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s Madhya Pradesh, has so far outlawed the killing of buffalo.

* Includes other states (Source: Livestock Census)

The only concession the Karnataka bill makes is to define cattle as bovines “under the age of thirteen”. In other words, both cattle and buffaloes over 13 years old can be slaughtered. But from a dairy farmer’s point of view, that’s not particularly helpful.

It takes 17-18 months for a typical crossbreed cow to reach puberty and be ready for insemination. At 9-10 months pregnant, she will give birth to her first calf and start producing milk at 27-28 months. Subsequent deliveries, after taking into account the postpartum break of three to four months, occur every 13-14 months. Farmers often do not have a cow beyond five or six calvings, when milk production falls and the profits do not justify the costs of feeding and maintenance. By then, the animal is seven or eight years old.

* Includes other states (Source: Livestock Census)

The same is true for buffalo, which take even longer (3.5-4 years) to give birth first and have a 15-16 month period between calving. Their productive age also does not exceed 9-10 years. No farmer can afford to wait 13 years, at which point the animal ceases to have salvage value. The small amount the farmer can receive is more than offset by the cost of feeding during the animal’s unproductive years.

The impact of the anti-slaughter laws, and even more so, their aggressive enforcement, can be seen in the official cattle census data. Between 2012 and 2019, UP, MP, Gujarat and Maharashtra (which, until a year ago, was a state ruled by the BJP) saw their cattle populations decline. However, these same states recorded increases in the number of buffalo. UP, Gujarat and Haryana, and also Punjab and Andhra Pradesh today have more buffalo than cattle.

The 2019 census, in fact, saw West Bengal surpass UP as the number one cattle state in India. The irony is that the state allows the sacrifice of all animals. It simply has a “control” law on animal sacrifice. Under it, any animal, be it cattle or buffalo, can be euthanized. All that is required is a certificate from a veterinarian stating that the animal is “fit for slaughter.”

If the stated objective behind the enactment of anti-slaughter legislation is “preservation of livestock”, it is clear that farmers are not listening to that message. They seem more inclined to the rearing of animals that can be easily removed after their useful life.

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