[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE Supreme Court of India today issued notice to the Central Government, state governments and Union Territories on an appeal filed against the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) failure to direct governments to take immediate steps to save critically endangered indigenous cattle breeds, particularly cows, and ban their slaughter across the country.
The matter was heard by a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Arun Mishra and M R Shah.
Petitioner Mathala Chandrapati Rao who is a trained aircraft maintenance engineer has submitted that while the NGT had directed the Union of India to conduct a joint meeting of all stakeholders to formulate a policy in regard to the protection of indigenous cows, it had done little else to force governments to take steps to protect the extinction of the species, which he claimed was 35,000 years old.
NGT dissatisfaction, missing stakeholders
In compliance with the order passed by the NGT on May 24, 2016, a joint meeting of stakeholders was conducted by the Animal Husbandry Commissioner, Government of India on June 28, 2017. This meeting, according to the petitioner, was conducted without proper preparation and because of the lack of advance information, most did not participate in the meeting.
According to the petitioner, the NGT had considered the minutes of the meeting and expressed dissatisfaction about the non-attendance of a majority of the stakeholders and had even gone on to implead various respondents. Despite the lack of progress, over the course of three and a half years, the petitioner claimed the NGT had not issued any directions to the Centre or state governments.
Aggrieved by the inaction of the tribunal, the petitioner had used the statutory appeal available under the NGT act to approach the apex court.
Threats to indigenous cows, farmers
Relying on a report of the National Commission for Cattle, Rao had pointed out to the NGT that the alleged indiscriminate slaughter of indigenous cows and simultaneous cross-breeding with exotic cattle, there had been a drastic drop in their population. This had led to:
- Non-availability of indigenous cow progeny to needy farmers
- Mechanized farming, which replaced animal-assisted farming which was beyond the reach of small and even marginal farmers. These helpless farmers and farm labourers were migrating to city slums as petty labour or committing suicide due to perennial losses suffered due to mechanized farming.
- While cow slaughter drastically affected the economics of farmers, reduced production of A2 milk given by indigenous cows was leading to stunted growth and malnourishment among babies, young children, lactating mothers and women, sick and old people etc.
- Union Minister for Environment Dr. Harsh Vardhan (himself a renowned medical doctor) informed Lok Sabha in March 2016 that 68% of milk sold in the country’s markets did not confirm to FSSAI Standards.
- While the world over people were using cattle to shift to organic farming (also called natural farming), our farmers were left with no option but to get rid of their cattle and rely on uneconomic mechanized farming methods.
According to the petitioner, the respondents before the NGT had admitted that cross-breeding of cows had resulted in the depletion of the indigenous cow population. Indian cows which are there for the past 35,000 years were vanishing day-by-day due to cross-breeding and indiscriminate slaughter, he claimed.
The petitioner had sought the following directions to the Centre, state governments and Union Territories from the NGT:
- to take immediate steps to save the critically endangered species of indigenous cow progeny with immediate effect and stop their slaughter in any part of the country.
- to take immediate steps to implement and strengthen the Rashtriya Gokula Mission.
- to ensure that indigenous cows breed with only indigenous healthy cattle
- to take necessary steps for carrying out research in milk yield of indigenous cattle and indigenous bullocks for improving their efficiency in dairy and agricultural operations.
- to allow maximum permissible incentives to the farmers for acquiring and maintaining indigenous cow progeny
- to arrange sufficient medical facilities to the indigenous cows and the bullocks preferably free of cost and to allow insurance scheme to the cattle owners, so that they are compensated for natural or unnatural death, ill health and inability to provide sustained income, etc. to farmers that own indigenous species.
- to arrange sufficient initial and continued training to the farmers and farm labourers in cow and bullock rearing.
- to accept the recommendations of the National Commission on Cattle 2002 and implement the same at the very earliest.