The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Tuesday granted a four-week stay on operationalising the centre's notification banning sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter at animal markets.
A vacation bench of Justice M V Muralidharan and Justice C V Karthikeyan granted an interim stay on the operation of the notification, on petitions filed by S Selvagomathy and Asik Elahi Baba, who hail from Kalimangalam near Madurai, seeking to declare those rules ultra vires the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 and various other constitutional provisions.
The division bench also issued notices to the state and central governments, returnable in four weeks.
The interim order effectively stops operation of Rule 22(b) (iii) and Rule 22(e) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulations of Live Stock Markets) Rules 2017.
Without laying out any guidelines for state legislation, the judges said a delegated power to legislate by making rules for carrying out the purposes of the Act was general in nature. ''It cannot be so exercised as to bring into existence substantive rights or obligations or disabilities not contemplated by the provisions of the Act,'' they said.
The judges saw considerable merit in the arguments advanced by senior counsel for the petitioners for granting interim relief but were not in agreement with the assistant solicitor general that a presumption was in favour of the central government when a particular rule was introduced by the executive.
The counsel for the centre argued that the aim of the notification was to regulate animal markets. However, the court stayed the order and issued notices to both the centre and state government, asking them to respond in four weeks.
The petitioners said the provisions of the new Regulation of Livestock Market Rules went against the Constitution, ''breached the cardinal principle of federalism'' and were contrary to the parent legislation - Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. The right to choice of food (non-vegetarian or vegetarian) is part of the right to personal liberty and conscience and privacy, they argued.
The petition filed by Selvagomathi said the centre's notification was ''against the fundamental rights of citizens, and the right to food and its choice is a fundamental right.''
The petitioners contended that since the notification was related to food, it should have been approved by Parliament. ''The slaughtering of animals for food, the food… made out of such animal flesh and offering sacrifice of animals are part of the cultural identity of most communities in India, protected under the Constitution,'' said the petitioners.
They said the rules were a burdensome interference in the freedom of trade and business guaranteed under the Constitution. Calling the order ''unreasonable and unconstitutional'', they said the government notification would cause ''severe food scarcity and famine since there is no alternative, adequate quantity of food provided by the state.''
The joint secretary of the union ministry of environment, forest and climate change has no jurisdiction to make such rules that are contrary to the parent enactment and also beyond the rule-making power delegated to him, the petitioners argued.
The petition said the sale of animals is a trade and business and every citizen has a right to carry on any occupation, trade or business, which is guaranteed under the Constitution. The right can be subjected to reasonable restriction by a law made by the competent legislature in the interest of the public, but the impugned provisions are in violation of the right to livelihood under the Constitution.
Further, they pointed out that the Supreme Court had in various cases held that the right to choice of food, be it non-vegetarian or vegetarian, is a part of the right to personal liberty, conscience and privacy. By imposing a ban on the slaughter of animals for food, citizens with a choice to eat the flesh of such animals would be deprived of such food, which violates the right to food, privacy and personal liberty guaranteed under the Constitution, they said.