By Tora Aggarwala
A NEW Bill to protect cattle tabled in the Assam Legislative Assembly on Monday by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma bars sale and purchase of beef or beef products in areas “predominantly inhabited by Hindu, Jain, Sikh and other non beef-eating communities”, or “within a radius of 5 km” of any temple or sattra (Vaishnavite monasteries).
This is a unique aspect of The Assam Cattle Preservation bill, 2021, which aims to regulate “slaughter, consumption, illegal transportation” of cattle. If passed, the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950, which Sarma had earlier said lacked sufficient legal provisions to “regulate slaughter, consumption and transportation of cattle”, will be repealed.
Many states which have their own anti-slaughter laws, do not exclude specific areas — like what Assam proposes — to sell or buy beef and beef products.
Reacting to the Bill, Leader of the Opposition Debabrata Saikia of Congress said there are a lot of problematic areas in the Bill and they are getting it examined by legal experts. “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,” he said.
The Opposition has said it will push for amendments. “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,” said Aminul Islam, All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) legislator.
Assam’s proposed law also does not distinguish between different cattle types — it will apply to all cattle that includes “bulls, bullocks, cows, heifer, calves, male and female buffaloes and buffalo calves.” For purposes of the anti-slaughter Act, both Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh include only cow progeny, but not buffaloes.
The Assam Bill prohibits inter-state transport of cattle to and from, as well as through Assam without valid documents. Sarma had earlier said that the proposed legislation was to ban movement of cattle to check cattle smuggling to Bangladesh, which shares a 263-kilometre-long border with Assam. He said the 1950 Act lacked sufficient legal provisions to “regulate slaughter, consumption and transportation of cattle” and thus it was imperative to enact a new legislation.
As per the 1950 Act, cattle slaughter is allowed only for cattle “over 14 years of age” or those “unfit for work” in Assam subject to a “fit-for-slaughter certificate” issued by a local veterinary officer after examination. Under the new law, the same approval certificate for all cattle is required — however, it adds that a cow cannot be slaughtered regardless of age.
“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” it says.
Section 7 of the Bill, ‘Prohibition on transport of cattle’, states that without a valid permit, transport of cattle is banned from Assam to states where slaughter of cattle is not regulated by law, and from one state to another “through” Assam. It also adds that cattle cannot be transported within the state (inter-district), without documents.
However, no permission is required to transport cattle for grazing or other agricultural or animal husbandry purposes, as well as to and from registered animal markets, within a district.
The proposed law also gives police officers (not below the rank of sub-inspector), or any other person authorised by the government, the power to “enter and inspect any premises” within their jurisdiction where he has “reason to believe that an offence under the Act has been or is likely to be committed.” In the 1950 Act, this power was given only to the Veterinary Officer and Certifying Officer, appointed by the government.
Anybody found guilty can be jailed for a term of minimum three years (extendable up to eight years) and fined Rs 3 lakh (with the upper limit Rs 5 lakh), or both. For repeat offenders, the punishment will be doubled.
The proposed legislation, however, allows for certain exemptions — it won’t apply to “religious occasions” when “slaughter of cattle, not being a cow or heifer or calf” is allowed.
The government also may establish gaushalas (shelters) to take care of recovered cattle.
All Opposition parties staged a walkout on Monday — the first day of the Budget session of the Assembly — after the Speaker did not allow a discussion on the issues of price rise of fuel and other essential commodities. ( Indian Express )