NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s Supreme Court suspended on Tuesday a government ban on the trade of cattle for slaughter, a boost for the multi-billion dollar beef and leather industries mostly run by members of the Muslim minority.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government in May decreed that markets could only trade cattle for agricultural purposes, such as ploughing and dairy production, on the grounds of stopping cruelty to animals.
The slaughter of cows, considered holy in Hinduism, was already banned in most parts of India, but Hindu hardliners and cow vigilante groups have been increasingly asserting themselves since Modi’s government came to power in 2014.
Muslims, who make up 14 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people, said the May government decree against the beef and leather industry employing millions of workers was aimed at marginalising them.
The Supreme Court, in issuing its decision, stressed the hardship that the ban on the trade of cattle for slaughter had imposed.
“The livelihood of people should not be affected by this,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar said in his ruling.
India’s meat and leather industries are worth more than $16 billion in annual sales.
After the decision, the government told the court it would modify and reissue its May order, Additional Solicitor General P.S. Narasimha said.