Religion has forced environment ministry to alter its animal welfare bill, 2011.
The environment ministry has changed the provision which could have made ritualistic slaughter of animals for food by different religious groups -halal by Muslims, jhatka by Hindus or Sikhs and kosher by Jews - an illegal act punishable with a fine of up to Rs1 crore.
Halal and kosher are distinct Muslim and Jewish practices of slaughtering animals for food, requiring animals to be fully conscious before being cut at the throat gently by a rapier or knife. In Jhatka, animal is beheaded.Muslim organisations had protested at the original provision of bill, which allowed killing of an animal for human food but made causing unnecessary trauma, pain or suffering an offence for causing cruelty to animals.
"Islam does not permit cruelty to animals and prescribes a humane way to kill them for food," said Asjad Madni, leader of Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, defending halal. Muslim groups were backed by Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh. Asked for response minority affairs minister Salman Khurshid said, "Muslims naturally have to follow mandatory religious practices in killing an animal for its meat. As and when the bill comes to us for our views, we will give an appropriate response."
Sensing political trouble the ministry took suo-motto action and decided to alter the controversial provision.
In a new draft circulated for ministerial consultation last week, the ministry exempted destruction of any animal for mankind from the penalty provisions for cruelty against animals. Another provision was added to explicitly state that killing of any animal as per religious practice will not be an offence. "Nothing contained in this Act shall render it an offence to kill any animal in a manner required by the religion of any community," the new provision said.
Environment minister Jairam Ramesh, a vegetarian by conviction, said he was sensitive to religious sentiments although his personal views differ. The minister had advocated vegetarianism, claiming killing of animals for meat accentuates global warming.
The debate on whether ritual slaughter practices are insenitive to animals had gripped the world with the Dutch imposing a ban on halal and kosher. It sparked a furious debate, with the country's chief rabbi comparing the ban to the Nazi persecution of Jews.
Representatives of one million Dutch Muslims and 40,000 Jews had condemned the ban of halal and kosher meat as a violation of religious freedom.
Such a situation has been avoided in India with the ministry prudently making requisite changes in the proposed law.