India’s Supreme Court has suspended a proposed law banning the trade of cattle for slaughter.
The government said the law, introduced in May, was to “prevent uncontrolled and unregulated animal trade”.
But the order, which would have banned the sale of buffaloes and camels as well as cows for slaughter, was widely opposed.
It would have a major impact on the meat and leather industries, and the judge said it would hit livelihoods.
The law was already stayed by a lower court in the southern state of Tamil Nadu on 30 May, days after it was first announced.
The top court said that the Madras high court’s interim order, which lapsed on 8 July, would continue and extend to the entire country.
The government is now expected to make changes and resubmit amendments to the law by the end of August.
Cows are considered holy by India’s majority Hindu population and cow slaughter is already banned in several Indian states, but this would have been the first time a law would have included buffaloes.
Most of India’s beef comes from water buffaloes rather than cows. With annual exports worth $4bn (£3.1bn), India is the largest exporter of beef, mostly buffalo meat, in the world.
Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar said in his order that “the livelihood of people should not be affected by this”.
Abdul Faheem Qureshi, the head of the Muslim All India Jamiatul Quresh Action Committee that supports meat sellers, who had lodged the petition with the Supreme Court, told Reuters news agency that the order was a “victory”.
Many states have actively started enforcing bans on cow slaughter after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party formed India’s federal government in 2014.
The western state of Gujarat passed a law in March making the slaughter of cows punishable with life imprisonment. In addition to government bans, vigilante groups who portray themselves as protectors of cows have been active in several states.
In some cases, these groups have killed Muslim men they suspect of killing cows. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said last year that cow vigilante groups made him “angry”, said again in June that killing in the name of cow protection was “not acceptable”.
However, this has not stopped attacks against cattle traders.
Mr Modi’s critics say the new order is aimed at appeasing India’s Hindu community.