NEW DELHI • India's Supreme Court has called on the government to answer charges that stringent new restrictions on cattle slaughter violate constitutional rights to freedom of religion and would impose a "huge economic burden" on some of the country's poorest families.
Taken aback by the wave of protests that greeted the regulations, the government said that rather than defend the new rules, it would pre-empt the legal challenge by rolling them back "on an urgent basis", a top official said.
"Whether we change the language or change the rule, we are doing this on an urgent basis," said the official, Dr Harsh Vardhan, union minister of the environment. "We want to set this issue to rest. It should take a few days, a few weeks, not long."
The rules, announced late last month as part of an Act to punish animal cruelty, require anyone selling livestock, which includes buffalo and camels, to produce a written guarantee that animals would not be slaughtered.
They were celebrated by far-right Hindu groups as the latest in a series of legal measures intended to protect cows, which many Hindus consider sacred.
A high court in the southern state of Tamil Nadu quickly imposed a four-week stay on the measure, saying it violated Indians' constitutional right to freedom of religion and encroached on states' rights. Even with the stay in place, the rules had a chilling effect on livestock markets, already jittery over the proliferation of Hindu cow-protection vigilantes.
Representatives of the leather and buffalo meat industries - which together account for around US$10 billion (S$14 billion) in yearly exports - warned that the restrictions would lead to a catastrophic drop in supplies, as well as job losses and company closings.
Beef and leather industry executives said they had been caught entirely by surprise when the new rules were made public on May 23.
Some officials of the governing party continue to rule out any softening. Said Ramesh Chandappa Jigajinagi, the minister of state for drinking water and sanitation: "We Hindus have been worshipping cows for so long and we should do something for them. Those who are objecting within the party are doing it at their individual level."