The Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021, tabled by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma in the legislative assembly on Monday, proposes a complete ban on the 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 Vaishnavite monastery.
The Bill, if passed, would replace the existing Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950. The Chief Minister had earlier said that the existing legislation lacks provisions to “regulate slaughter, consumption and transportation of cattle”.
What differentiates the Bill brought by the Assam government from the anti-slaughter laws of other states is that it specifically excludes areas where sale and purchase of beef is barred. Unlike similar anti-slaughter laws in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, which include only cow progeny and not buffaloes, the Assam bill does not distinguish between cattle types. It will apply to all cattle that includes “bulls, bullocks, cows, heifer, calves, male and female buffaloes and buffalo calves,” The Indian Express reported.
The Bill also bars inter-state transport of cattle to, from, and through Assam without valid documents. The government’s intent behind the Bill is also to check cattle smuggling to Bangladesh, with whom Assam shares a 263-kilometre-long border.
Opposition parties have taken exception to the rule stipulating a ban on sale or purchase of beef and related products within a 5-km radius of temples and said they will get it examined by experts. “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,” Leader of the Opposition Debabrata Saikia of Congress told IE.
All India United Democratic Front legislator Aminul Islam said that the Opposition will push for amendments. “This (the Bill) 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,” he said.
Among other provisions, the Bill states that a cow cannot be slaughtered regardless of age, a departure from the 1950 Act which allowed cattle slaughter “over 14 years of age” or those “unfit for work”. However, it retains the provision that stipulates obtaining an approval certificate from a veterinarian for slaughter of all cattle, other than cows.
“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.
The Bill also bars transport of cattle from Assam to states where slaughter of cattle is not regulated by law, and from one state to another “through” Assam without a valid permit. It also adds that cattle cannot be transported within the state (inter-district), without documents.
The Bill also provides powers to police officers (sub-inspectors and above) as well as government-authorised persons 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.” The 1950 Act gave such powers only to the Veterinary Officer and Certifying Officer, appointed by the government.
An offence under the proposed Act carries a jail term of minimum three years (extendable up to eight years) and a fine of Rs 3 lakh (maximum Rs 5 lakh), or both for those found guilty. The punishment will be doubled for repeat offenders. As an exception the provision will not apply to “religious occasions” when “slaughter of cattle, not being a cow or heifer or calf” is permitted.