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How Gujarat govt imposed curbs on livestock export for 'fear' of losing BJP vote share

By RK Misra*
Insidious are the ways authorities function, preaching one thing, practicing quite another. Administrative muscle-flexing to suit political goals was on display when the BJP-led Vijay Rupani government in Gujarat banned the export of livestock days ahead of Eid. Even the Narendra Modi-led government expressed its intent to confirm it countrywide, but stopped short of doing so.
Here is a classic case of how governments function in India, looking London and talking Tokyo.
In April, the Gujarat High Court quashed three notifications of the state government aimed at stopping export of livestock from Tuna port in Kutch, terming it a "colourable exercise of powers”, to do something which cannot be done directly. A division bench of justices Harsha Devani and Bhargav Karia termed the decision as "grossly illegal, unconstitutional and violative of the fundamental rights of the petitioners”.
Several livestock exporters had sought judicial redressal after the state government issued orders up to December 2018 which banned the export of livestock, principally sheep and goat, from Tuna. The judges said in their verdict that ”with a view to appease a section of society which is averse to export of livestock from Tuna port, the government has from time to time taken all steps to ensure that the petitioners and similarly situated persons are not able to carry out this export from here”.
The sequence of events makes for interesting reading. On December 14 chief minister Vijay Rupani announced that the government will not allow livestock exports from the port. On the same day, the agriculture department issues a notification under the Gujarat Essential Commodities and Cattle (Control) Act, prohibiting movement of cattle from outside into any drought-affected area.
Kutch had already been declared drought affected. Soon after, the director of animal husbandry informed the collector of customs that the state government has decided to withdraw the services provided for health check-ups of animals to be exported and would not allow export of live animals until the specified (check-up) facility was established. 
On the same day, the home department directed the Kutch police to set up check-posts to keep a watch on transportation of animals, the High Court noted.
“What cannot be done directly by the state government is sought to be done indirectly under the guise of exercise of powers under section 4(1)(b) of the (Cattle Protection) Act… Notification, therefore, clearly has been issued in colourable exercise of powers and deserves to be struck down”, the court ruled. It added that ”the intention was to prohibit export which is otherwise not a state subject”. 
The state government requested a stay of the order so that it could move the Supreme Court but no stay was granted.
MTM Hakim, advocate who represented some of the petitioners, said that this was not the first time that the state government had attempted to stop these exports from Tuna port. Two previous attempts had been too.
On August 3, 2018, the director-general of shipping in consultation with the mercantile marine department allowed mechanized shipping vessels to operate from Tuna port in August. The consignment was to leave by August 6.
But the same day, the district magistrate of Kutch, Ramya Mohan, stopped the consignment of about 8,000 sheep and goat which was to be exported to UAE. She cited violation of Prevention of the Cruelty to Animals Act,1960 and immediately appointed a three-member committee to probe this.
The panel comprised of the sub-divisional magistrate, Anjar and the deputy police chief and deputy director, animal husbandry. They were asked to submit their report within a day. However, before that could be done , the D-G, shipping stopped the vessel on August 8 without assigning any reason.
The mercantile marine department which had cleared the export then backtracked saying that according to the Indian Merchant Shipping Act ,1958 and the Sailing Vessel Rules, 1997, vessels must not sail in the foul season of June 1-August 31 and cancelled the port clearance through a letter dated August 7.
Aggrieved exporters sought the intervention of the High Court and a single judge bench of Justice Bela Trivedi stayed the August 6 order of the district magistrate till the pendency of the petition filed by the Livestock Exporters Association (LEA). The Court also observed that the panel formed by the district magistrate lacked the authority of law.
Besides the apparently communal nature of events, things fell in place once realization dawned that Bakri-Eid in 2018 fell on August 22 when demand for such livestock in the Gulf countries peaked and any obstruction in exports then was likely to result in huge economic losses with penalties and potential blacklisting.
There was also realisation that livestock exports from Tuna in 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 had crossed seven lakh heads. 
According to reports, a Dubai-based company, which had invested heavily in these exports, wrote to the external affairs ministry to resolve the matter, as such undue interruption in export sullied the name of Indian exporters. Adil Noor, secretary of the Livestock Export Association, Gujarat, also drew attention of the authorities to this fact.
According to data from the Union commerce ministry, the export value of sheep and goat meat from India has increased from US$ 128.38 million in 2015-16 to US$ 129.69 million in 2016-17. Some 60 countries import this meat from India and almost 80 per cent of the total meat exports go to West Asia. UAE followed by Nepal are the two main countries which import live sheep and goats from India.
It was only after these efforts came to nought, that the Rupani government pulled out all stops to block the livestock export with a series of measures including the December notification.
The fact that there is more than meets the eye became clear when the Rajkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry pressed for a ban in livestock export.
In a representation in March to commerce and industry minister Suresh Prabhu, it stated that ”now it seems that our livestock exporters are beyond the law of the land. It is high time you need to take serious note that such unruly export is threat against national security and it is also conniving hawala and money laundering”.
This shocking representation from a trade body that had no locus standii in the matter only further strengthened the suspicion that larger forces were at work. Incidentally, Rajkot is the hometown of Rupani who is a Jain.
Tuna, which is the sole designated port for livestock export in the country, falls under the Gandhidham Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which is representative trade body of Kutch, and has extended support to the exporters. Ashish Joshi, secretary of the body , is on record stating that the livestock exporters had sought their help and "we extended it to them."
Initially, it was made out that the curbs were imposed due to representation by animal rights activists and members of the Jain community .However, opponents were quick to point out that there are no restrictions on either serving or eating non-vegetarian food in Gujarat. ”No government can ever impose such curbs at home for fear of losing out on vote share”, said a ruling party politician.
Former Gujarat chief minister Suresh Mehta said the High Court judgement was an eye-opener since it has brought out the biased way in which power was exercised to subvert the very edifices which it was duty bound to protect. And the judgement has clearly damned the government.
Was it not Thomas Jefferson, author of the US declaration of independence and former President who said: ”Tyranny is defined as that which is legal for the government but illegal for the citizenry!"
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*Senior Gujarat-based journalist. Blog: http://wordsmithsandnewsplumbers.blogspot.com/

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