On July 12, a new bill was tabled in Assam Legislative Assembly by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. As per the proposed clauses, if passed, the law would ban the sale and purchase of beef and beef products in areas where Hindu, Sikh, Jain and other non-beef-eating communities are in higher concentration. Also, the proposed bill would ban the sale of such products within a radius of 5 KM of any temple or Sattra.
Titled Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021, the proposed bill aims to regulate the slaughter, consumption, illegal transportation of cattle in the state. Sarma had earlier pointed out that the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950 does not have sufficient legal provisions to regulate the slaughter, consumption and transportation of cattle. If this bill is passed, the previous law would be repealed. It has to be noted that in the states where anti-slaughter laws are in place, there is no provision to exclude specific areas similar to what the Assam government has proposed.
Opposition raised objection
Congress’s Debabrata Saikia, leader of the opposition, said the bill has a lot of ‘problematic areas’, and the party is getting it examined by the legal experts. As per a report in Indian Express, Saikia said, “For example, the 5 km rule about beef. A stone can be laid, and a ‘temple’ can be ‘built’ anywhere by anyone — so it becomes very ambiguous. This may lead to a lot of communal tension.”
The opposition has alleged that the aim of the government is not to protect or respect cows but to hurt the sentiments of the Muslim community. Aminul Islam, All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), said, “This is not a Bill to protect cows or even respect cows. This has been brought to hurt the sentiments of the Muslims and polarise communities further. We oppose it and will try and bring in amendment resolutions.” The opposition said they would push for amendments to the bill.
All members of the bovine family included
In the majority of the states, including Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, only cow slaughter is banned. However, the bill proposed by the Assam government bans the slaughter of all members of the bovine family, including bulls, bullocks, cows, heifer, calves, male and female buffaloes and buffalo calves. It also prohibits inter-state transport of the cattle without valid documents. Notably, Sarma had earlier pointed out that the proposed bill would ban the movement of cattle to ensure there is a check on cattle smuggling to Bangladesh. Assam shares a 262-KM border with the neighbouring country.
According to the 1950 Act, a cattle can be slaughtered only if it has attained the age of 14 and has been deemed unfit to work. A veterinary officer issues a “fit-for-slaughter” certificate. However, under the new law, it would be required for all cattle. In the case of a cow, regardless of age, it cannot be slaughtered.
The bill reads, “No certificate shall be issued unless the Veterinary Officer is of the opinion that the cattle, not being a cow, is over fourteen years of age; or the cattle, not being a cow, heifer or calf, has become permanently incapacitated from work or breeding due to accidental injury or deformity.”
Though the bill would make it compulsory to have permission for inter-state movement of cattle, no permission would be required to transport cattle for grazing, agriculture or animal husbandry purposes, including movement to and from registered animal markets within the district.
Police will have the power to inspect premises
The proposed bill gives power to police officers of sub-inspector and higher rank or any person authorized by the government to enter and inspect any premises within their jurisdiction in case they have a reason to believe that an offence under the act has been or might be committed.
Double punishment for repeat offenders
Under the proposed bill, if anyone is found guilty, the person can be jailed for a minimum of three years that can be extended to eight years. There is a provision of a fine of Rs.3 lakh to Rs.5 lakh fine. The accused can be punished with a jail term, fine or both. If the accused is a repeat offender, the punishment would be doubled.
Exclusions in the bill
In the proposed bill, there are some exclusions, such as religious occasions where slaughter is allowed. However, even in those cases, the slaughter of cow or heifer or calf would not be allowed in any circumstances.
More gaushalas to be established
The government has also proposed to establish more gaushalas to take care of the sick, stray and recovering cattle.
Though Nagaland and Mizoram have not yet reacted to the proposed bill, Conrad Sangma, Chief Minister, Meghalaya had said last week that the state would approach Union Government in case the new law affects the supply of beef to the state. He said, “We have not seen the copy of the law what it says, we will need to examine what the terms and conditions are and how they plan to do it. We will try to ask the central government to intervene in the matter if there is an issue that is going to hamper our people and our economy.”