Where's the Beef?

Karnataka’s cattle-slaughter bill raises concerns in Goa

Ubaldo's Beef Shop, set up in the 1920s, overlooks Calangute's bustling fish market. Supriya Vohra
31 March, 2021

Nascimento Fernandes is a third-generation beef trader in Goa. Ubaldo’s Beef Shop, set up by his grandfather in the 1920s, overlooks Calangute’s bustling fish market. Fresh beef from Belgaum, in neighbouring Karnataka, is brought in daily. Five minivans make deliveries in Panjim, Mapusa, Ponda, Vasco and Margao—about fifteen to twenty tonnes a day—between 7 am and 10 am. These supplies then make their way to traders like Fernandes, who caters to both residents of the village and the restaurants and beach shacks in the area. During festivals, live buffalos and bulls have often been transported from Karnataka to a state-run abattoir.

All of this, however, stands to change. On 9 December, the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2020 was passed in the Vidhan Sabha without discussion, despite vocal opposition from the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular). The bill prohibits the killing of all bovines—cows, bulls and buffalos—except for buffalos over the age of 13 after certification by a “competent authority.” The bill also bans the transport of cattle in the state. The penalty for slaughter ranges from fifty thousand to ten lakh rupees per animal, and imprisonment for three to seven years. The bill empowers the police to seize cattle if they have “reason to believe” it is being sold, purchased or disposed of for the purpose of slaughter. In addition, it offers protection to those “acting in good faith” to protect cattle, giving legal cover to the various vigilante groups and lynch mobs that have mushroomed during the tenure of the Narendra Modi government in the name of preventing cow slaughter.

“I have scrutinised almost every state slaughter law,” Sagari R Ramdas, a veterinary scientist at Food Sovereignty Alliance, told me, “and it came as a complete shock to me that every single slaughter law in India—since the earliest laws enacted, like the Bombay Animal Preservation Act, 1954—have provided ‘protection’ to person(s) authorised by the ‘competent authority’ on their behalf to exercise their power to enter and inspect any premises where they have reason to believe that an offence under this act has or may be committed.” She noted that any such person was protected against prosecution by these laws, and that the 2016 anti-slaughter act passed in Maharashtra even allowed them to seize a vehicle in which cattle were being transported.

“The difference is in today’s context; these clauses are being used to facilitate vigilantism,” Ramdas said, adding that the Karnataka bill “essentially gives a green light and go-ahead to gau rakshaks”—literally cow-protectors, the appellation of choice for many of the vigilantes—“to do whatever they want.” Fernandes echoed the sentiment. “Now anyone can stop the vehicle and do whatever they want,” he said. “Who will want to do business now?”