Prior to tabling the Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021 , in the 126-member Assembly on July 12, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said its primary objective was to check the smuggling of cows to Bangladesh.
It also seeks to restrict the sale of beef in areas dominated by non-beef consuming communities and within a 5-km radius of temples and ‘satras’ (Vaishnav monasteries) formed by the 15-16th century saint-reformer Srimanta Sankaradeva.
The Bill seeks to replace the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950, that allows the slaughter of cattle above 14 years of age or those that have become permanently incapacitated due to work, breeding, accident or deformity after local veterinary officers certify that they are fit for slaughter.
The Bill retains this provision while intending to regulate the slaughter, consumption and illegal transportation of cattle across Assam. It says the certified cattle can be slaughtered only in licensed and recognised slaughterhouses.
“The State government may exempt certain places of worship, or certain occasions from the slaughter of cattle other than cow, heifer or calf, for religious purposes,” it says.
Beef and beef products
The Bill says no one will be allowed to sell beef or beef products in any form except at places permitted by the government. Beef will not be allowed to be sold in areas predominantly inhabited by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and other non-beef-eating communities or within a radius of 5 km of any temple, ‘satra’ “or other religious institutions belonging to Hindu religion or any other institution or area as may be prescribed by the competent authority”.
The Bill seeks to regulate the sale of cattle in the recognised animal markets. Such markets or committees would have to issue proof of sale and purchase of animals in a prescribed format to the purchaser and maintain a proper record for inspection.
Violations would lead to the cancellation of the licence of the animal market and violators would be barred from entering the market and fined. Police and veterinary officers can seize cattle, carcass or vehicles used to transport cattle sold without following the rules, and the seized cattle would be handed over to ‘gaushalas’ (cow shelters) or similar institutions, the Bill says.
The Bill seeks to ban the transportation of cattle to and from Assam as well as within the State unless competent authorities issue permits for movement of the animal for “bona fide or animal husbandry purposes while following rules laid down by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960”.
However, no permission would be required to carry cattle to grazing field or for agricultural or animal husbandry purposes within a district. Transportation of cattle to and from registered animal market for the purpose of sale and purchase within a district will also not require permission.
People who violate the provisions of the Bill pertaining to slaughter, sale and transportation of cattle would entail imprisonment for three-eight years and fines between ₹3 lakh and ₹5 lakh. But a trial court can impose a lesser punishment or fine. Repeat offenders will be punished with double the imprisonment and fine for the second and subsequent convictions, the Bill says.
Reactions to Bill
The Bill is likely to choke supply to Christian-majority States in the Northeast where beef is consumed. Nagaland and Mizoram have not reacted to Assam’s legislation yet, but Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma said he would take up the issue with the Centre if the new law affected the supply of cattle to the State.
The Congress and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) said the Bill could lead to communal tensions and affected the livelihood of many involved in the cattle trade business legally.
“There is a ploy to control the cattle export market by targeting a particular community in the continuous bid to polarise people. The government would be aware that six of the largest beef exporters in India are leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party,” AIUDF legislator Aminul Islam said.
The All Assam Minority Students’ Union asked the government not to interfere with the food habits of people.