A renewed push from the BJP government in Maharashtra and the Centre was instrumental in removing hurdles by the Union agriculture ministry in the way of a cattle slaughter ban getting a presidential assent after languishing for almost two decades, sources told HT.
Beef went off the menu in the state after President Pranab Mukherjee approved an amendment to a state law, which also brought possession, sale or purchase of bulls, bullocks and calves under a slaughter ban that only covered cows before.
The push by the Devdendra Fadnavis government for the bill came as the Prime Minister's Office was seeking Union law ministry's opinion on whether the Centre could circulate laws on cow slaughter enacted by some states, including Gujarat, as a model bill to other states for creating similar legislations there.
"Thanks a lot Hon President Sir for the assent on Maharashtra Animal Preservation Bill. Our dream of ban on cow slaughter becomes a reality now," the Maharashtra chief minister had tweeted but was silent about his government's and the NDA regime's renewed push.
The slaughter of cows, bulls, bullocks and calves, was completely banned in Maharashtra under the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (amendment) Act (MAPA), 1995, which received President Mukherjee's nod on March 2.
There is already a blanket ban in the state on the slaughter of cows. The amended act puts a blanket ban on the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and calves, too. However, the slaughter of female buffaloes and buffalo calves can continue, but only with the permission of relevant authorities.
Under the amended act, the crime of slaughtering the animals covered under the ban will be non-bailable and the punishment will be 5 years in prison, upped from the earlier 6 months. The fine, too, has been hiked to Rs. 10,000 from the current Rs. 1,000.
The slaughter of cows is banned under schedule 5 of the act passed in 1976. Schedule 6 of the act, however, allowed the slaughter of bulls and bullocks, female buffaloes and buffalo calves with permission. The amendment now puts bulls, bullocks and calves under schedule 5 of the act, which means a blanket ban on their slaughter.
The Sena-BJP government in 1995 moved an amendment for the inclusion of bulls, bullocks and calves under schedule 5 of MAPA. After the passage of the bill, it was sent to the Centre for the final nod in 1996.
Contrary to reports about the bill lying with the President for over 18 years, President Mukherjee took just 8 days to dispose of it, said sources.
"In 1996, the then Shiv Sena-BJP government had passed a cattle slaughter bill but when it reached the Centre for presidential approval, the Congress government – followed by United Front regime – did not seem inclined to move further," said a home ministry official.
The Union agriculture ministry had acted as the main hurdle, asking the state government how it would deal with a spurt in the population of cattle if they were not slaughtered. The ministry also wanted to know about provisions made for arranging fodder and the policy to deal with old animals, added the official.
When a BJP government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee came to power at the Centre in March 1998, the issues were yet to be sorted out.
Next year, the saffron party was voted out of power in Maharashtra with a Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine taking charge.
"For the next two to three years there was no reply from the state government and it informed the Centre later that they had formed a committee to look into the issue," said the official.
Since then, the matter remained pending with the state government and the Centre received no reply despite reminders.
When the Fadnavis government came to power, it asked the home ministry about the bill.
The old hurdle posed by the agriculture ministry was 'sorted out' and the bill was sent for presidential assent, ministry sources said. President Mukherjee got the bill on February 16 and gave his assent on February 26.