Assam CM tables cow protection legislation in assembly
Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma tabled a legislation to protect cattle in the state on the first day of the budget session of the assembly that started on Monday.
Termed the Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021, the legislation aims to ban interstate transport of cows through Assam in order to control their smuggling to neighbouring Bangladesh.
The Bill seeks to stop the transport of cattle from any place within Assam to places outside the state “where slaughter of cattle is not regulated by law”.
The transport of cattle from places outside Assam to any place within the state will 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.
“The competent authority may issue permit for transport of cattle for bona fide agricultural or animal husbandry purposes as prescribed in the rules framed under the Act,” states the Bill.
The cattle, permitted to be transported for agricultural and animal husbandry purposes, will have to be transported by following rules laid down by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
The Bill has certain exemptions on transportation of cattle. No permission would be required to carry cattle to grazing field or for agricultural or animal husbandry purposes within a district.
“No permission shall be required for transportation of cattle to and from registered animal market for the purpose of sale and purchase of such cattle within the district,” the proposed Bill states.
Assam is the main gateway to the northeast region and apart from cattle all other goods coming from other parts of the country enter through the state. The cow protection Bill is likely to affect supply in several Christian-majority states in the region where beef is consumed.
While Nagaland and Mizoram have not reacted yet to Assam’s legislation, Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma said last week that it will take up the issue with Centre is the new law affects supply of beef to the state.
The Bill also seeks to regulate the sale of beef in Assam by restricting it to certain places. Once enacted, beef would be allowed to be sold only in places permitted by the new legislation.
Beef won’t be allowed to be sold in areas which have a predominant population of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and other non-beef-eating communities or within a radius of 5km of any temple, ‘satra’ (Vaishnavite monastery) “or other religious institutions belonging to Hindu religion or any other institution or area as may be prescribed by the competent authority”.
Violations of the provisions of the Bill could lead to imprisonment for three to eight years and fine between ₹3 lakh and ₹5 lakh.
Consumption of beef is not illegal in Assam and the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950 allows slaughter of cattle above 14 years of age with proper approval by local veterinary officers.
Once enacted, Assam would join other BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, which have similar legislation to protect cows.
Reacting to the legislation, opposition parties in the state and minority organisations said that the Bill could led to communal tensions and also affect the livelihood of many involved in the cattle trade business legally.
“The Bill is aimed at targeting a particular community. Why don’t states like Goa, Meghalaya and Nagaland where BJP is part of the government bring in such legislation? The Assam government wants to polarise people through this Bill. We will oppose it and bring in amendment resolutions,” said Md Aminul Islam, an All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) MLA.
“We have asked our legal department to see whether the Bill hurts the fundamental rights of a certain community. Interpretation of such legislation is a contentious issue and could lead to attacks on communities that consume beef. We will seek adequate and appropriate amendments in the proposed Bill,” said Congress Legislative Party leader Debabrata Saikia.
The All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU) said that clauses such as ban on the sale of beef within 5km radius of temples seem illogical and were included with the intent to target Muslims.
“If such a ban is imposed for beef, some could suggest similar restrictions on the sale of pork near mosques. This sort of things could lead to tension among communities. The government shouldn’t interfere with food habits of people. The ban on transportation would affect the lives of many and would also affect government revenue collection from the sale of cattle,” said AAMSU adviser Ainuddin Ahmed.
The session, which is the second one for the new BJP-led coalition, will witness a woman finance minister present the state’s annual budget for the first time in Assam’s history. Finance minister Ajanta Neog will present the budget on July 16.
On the first day of the session, MLAs from opposition parties including Congress and All India United Democratic Front staged a walkout after Speaker Biswajit Daimary refused to allow an adjournment motion on rising fuel prices.
Besides the Bill on cow protection, 13 other bills will be tabled in the session which will end on August 13.