Assam assembly allows seizure of properties of those accused of illegal cow trade
The Assam assembly on Thursday passed an amendment to the Assam Cattle Preservation Act empowering the police to enter the house of an accused and inspect, search and seize properties acquired in the last six years with money reportedly earned from illegal cattle trade.
Amid heated debate in the assembly, chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said he wants to convey the message that Assam is a “tough state” while dealing with unlawful cattle trade. Most of the amendment brought by the opposition members to the bill introduced on December 20 were withdrawn except that by independent MLA Akhil Gogoi, who stuck to his stand that the entire bill was “constitutional and communal” in nature.
On August 13, the assembly had passed The Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021, banning cattle slaughter and sale of beef in areas where Hindus, Jains and Sikhs are in a majority or within a five-kilometre radius of a temple or satra (Vaishnavite monasteries) or any other institution as maybe prescribed by authorities.
A new section is proposed to be inserted in the Act, that empowers an investigating officer to enter, inspect, search, seize and detain an accused and his/her movable or immovable properties accumulated in the previous six years with the income from illegal cattle trade.
“Provided that the burden of proving that the property so attached or seized has not been illegally acquired through sale or transportation of cattle in violation of any of the provision under this Act, shall be on the person affected,” a part of the amendment said.
On Gogoi’s criticism about the burden of proof on the accused, Sarma said other acts like the POCSO Act and NDPS Act along with the Foreigners Act also put the onus on the accused to prove himself or herself innocent.
The bill aims to omit a provision wherein the state government was authorised to exempt certain places of worship or occasions for slaughter of cattle other than calf, heifer and cow for religious purposes.
“There is no restriction on buffalo sacrifice in the temples and it can go on anytime without any permission from the competent authority. However, there will be no sacrifice of cows in the temples or any slaughter,” Sarma said.
The other amendments allowed the state government to auction vehicles seized while transporting cattle illegally and inter-district transportation of cattle for agricultural and animal husbandry purposes except in 8 districts which border Bangladesh and Bhutan. The present law restricts inter-district transportation without permits issued by competent authority.
“If illegal transportation of cattle has to stop, owners of vehicles have to realize that such an act is illegal. There’s no question of compromise on this,” Sarma said in the assembly.
Earlier, while the recovered cattle used to be sent to cow shelters, the vehicles used to transport them used to lie in police stations.
The Bill bans inter-state transport of cows through Assam in order to control their smuggling to neighbouring Bangladesh. It also bans transport of cattle from other states through Assam to places outside the state. Transport of cattle from any place within Assam to places outside the state “where slaughter of cattle is not regulated by law” is also banned.
Transport of cattle from places outside Assam to any place within the state is also be banned by the legislation. Further, movement of cattle from one place within the state to another located in Assam will also be restricted. However, competent authority may issue permit for transport of cattle for bona-fide agricultural or animal husbandry purposes.
The Bill bans sale of beef in areas which have predominant population of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and other non-beef-eating communities or within a radius of 5 km of any temple, ‘satra’ (Vaishnavite monastery) “or other religious institutions belonging to Hindu religion”. Violations of the provisions of the Bill could lead to imprisonment for three to eight years and fine between ₹3 lakh and ₹5 lakh.
Besides the amendment Bill for cattle preservation law, the state government would table 13 other amendment legislations and a new legislation for setting up a commission to regulate recruitment to Class III and Class IV posts.
(With PTI Inputs)