Opposition says it targets a community, will bring in amendments.
Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma Monday tabled the Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021 — with an aim to regulate “slaughter, consumption, illegal transportation” of cattle — in the state Assembly. If passed, the new legislation will repeal the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950.
The proposed law prohibits the interstate transport of cattle to and from, as well as through Assam without valid documents. It also prohibits selling and buying of beef in areas which are inhabited by “non-beef eating communities” as well as within a radius of 5 km of any temple.
Reacting to the Bill, the Opposition has said that it will bring in amendments. The Leader of Opposition, Debabrata Saikia of the Congress, said they are getting the Bill examined by legal experts.
Sarma had earlier said the proposed legislation was to ban movement of cattle to keep in 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.
The law will extend to the entire state and apply to cattle that includes “bulls, bullocks, cows, heifer, calves, male and female buffaloes and buffalo calves.”
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 legislation also says that no person shall “directly or indirectly” sell or buy beef or beef products other than in permitted places by the authorities. These include areas which are “predominantly inhabited by Hindu, Jain, Sikh and other non beef eating communities”, or “within a radius of 5 km” of any temple, sattra (vaishnavite monasteries established by 16 th century poet-saint Sankardeva) or “any other institution as maybe prescribed by the authorities.”
The proposed law also gives police officers, 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). For repeat offenders, the punishment will be doubled.
The government also may establish gaushalas (shelters) to take care of recovered cattle.
“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.
“There are a lot of problematic areas in the Bill — 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,” Saikia said.
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.
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