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Author: Shreya Biswas
On the last day of the ongoing Budget session, the state Assembly enacted the Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021, which restricts the sale and purchase of beef in areas inhabited by non-beef-eating communities and within a 5 km radius of a temple or a satra (Vaishnavite monastery). The Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950 will be repealed, and the new legislation will regulate the “slaughter, consumption, and illegal transportation” of cattle. It
also prohibits cattle from being transported between states, including through Assam, without valid documents, ostensibly preventing cattle smuggling to Bangladesh, which shares a 263
km border with Assam. In this article we will see the provisions of the Assam Cattle
Preservation Bill, 2021 in brief and the reactions against the Bill by the Congress oppositions, All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), Communist Party of India (Marxist) and others.
On the first day of the Budget Session, Assam’s newly elected Chief Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, proposed the Assam Cattle Preservation Bill 2021 in the State Legislative Assembly. Many other BJP-ruled states have already enacted strict cow protection legislation. On July 7, 2021, the Cabinet approved the bill. The Assam Cattle Preservation Act of 1950 is being repealed by this law. The ruling government claims that the Act of 1950
failed to protect the life of Cattles and that new legislation is required immediately. The proposed legislation is significantly stricter than current legislation.
PROVISIONS UNDER THE NEW BILL
The bill proposes to protect cattle by restricting their slaughter, consumption, and unlawful transportation in the whole extends of the state of Assam. [Section1]
Bulls, Bullocks, Cows, Heifers, Calves, Male and Female Buffaloes, and Buffalo Calves are included in the definition of cattle in of the Bill. [Section 3(C)] The slaughter of cattle is also prohibited by the bill; however unintentional killing of animals will not be considered slaughtering.
The bill makes it illegal to butcher cattle without first obtaining a certificate from the appropriate authority. The veterinary officer is the one who must issue the certificate. The certificate will only be provided if the Veterinary Officer determines that the cattle, not being
a cow, is above 14 years old or that the cattle, not being a cow, heifer, or calf, has become permanently disabled from work or breeding owing to an accident or deformity. [Section 5]
The bill states that certified cattle may only be slaughtered in a licenced slaughterhouse.[Section 6]
The bill makes it illegal to transport animals without a valid permission [Section 7]
The bill restricts the selling of beef and beef products except in specified locations. There is also a complete prohibition within a 5-kilometer radius of any Temple, Satra, or religious
institution, according to the clause. [Section 8]
It delineates who has the authority to enter, inspect, search, and detain. Police officers not below the level of Sub Inspector, a certified Veterinary Officer, and any other person recognised by the State Government in this capacity have been given the authority.[Section 11]
Anyone found guilty under this bill, faces a minimum penalty of three years in prison
(extendable to eight years) and a fine of Rs 3 lakh (up to Rs 5 lakh) or both. Repeat offenders will face double the penalty. [Section 13]
All offences under the act are cognizable and non-bailable. [Section 14]
State Government discussed the establishment of Gaushalas. [Section 20]
The former Assam Cattle Preservation Act of 1950 is repealed. [Section 23]
REACTIONS TOWARDS THE BILL
Himanta Biswa Sarma (Assam Chief Minister) described the passing of the Bill as “historic”.
In his Twitter post he said: “Extremely happy and proud to fulfill our poll promise with the passing of historic Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 2021. I’m sure this will deal a heavy blow to the illegal cattle trade & transit through Assam, ensuring due care of cattle as practised in our tradition for ages.”
The Opposition Congress, All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), and Communist
Party of India (Marxist) presented at least 75 amendments to the Bill and requested that it be referred to an Assembly select committee for further discussion, but Sarma rejected the request. The Opposition walked out in protest, and the Bill was then carried by voice vote.
The BJP MLAs in the House chanted “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and “Jai Shree Ram” after Speaker Biswajit Daimary announced the bill had been passed.
On 12 th July Himanta Biswa Sarma (Assam Chief Minister) had introduced the Bill in the Assembly, claiming that the 1950 Act lacked “sufficient legal provisions” to regulate cattle slaughter, consumption, and transportation, and that new legislation was needed.
The measure, according to Congress’s Leader of the Opposition Debabrata Saikia, would damage the livelihoods of the “poorest of the poor,” and so needed to be brought to a select committee for further consideration.
Aminul Islam, an AIUDF MLA from Dhing, also campaigned for various amendments,
claiming that a 2020 survey found 1,09,09,327 cows in Assam. He said cows aren’t even threatened that there was demands for such harsh regulation to protect them. He added “those
who rear cows will suffer tremendous socio-economic losses.” He further stated that the 5km rule amounted to prohibiting the consumption of meat or the slaughter of cows throughout the state. He also added that “We applaud the idea of the clause stating that no slaughter should
take place in areas where non-beef consuming communities live. The 5 kilometre rule, on the other hand, is troublesome. There is no area in Assam that can meet these requirements. The
authorities could as well have declared the slaughter illegal throughout the state”.
To this Sarma replied that the 5 kilometre rule, will not apply to all “kind of temples.” There will be guidelines that will only apply to temples that exist now, at the time the Bill is being considered. This does not mean that simply identifying a location near a tree and calling it a “temple” will bring it under the jurisdiction of this article. We’ll have laws that specify what
kind of temple we’ll build and temples that are hundreds of year’s old, temples that may appear in areas where archaeological evidence exists, and so on.
According to Manoranjan Talukdar of the CPI (M), the bill will restrict people’s freedom to select what they eat, particularly in areas where there is a minority population of beef-eating
Other North-eastern states have expressed major objections about Assam’s Cattle Protection initiative. Conrad K Sangma (Meghalaya Chief Minister) said, “We will discuss the issue with the Assam government and also with the Centre if the law impacts cattle transit to Meghalaya from other States”. Assam continues to serve as a crossroads for all of the north-
eastern states. Non-vegetarians make up the majority of the population in these states. A law prohibiting the transportation of cattle and beef will have an impact on their eating habits and availability to meat. It may also result in a price increase.
The legislation, according to Sarma, is intended to create unity and fraternity between the two communities, not to “restrict anyone from eating beef.” He added that there is no negative
aim, “all we are asking is don’t consume beef where Hindus and Jains dwell, or within 5 km of a temple” that meat has been linked to the majority of communal conflicts reported in Barak Valley regions and Lower Assam since 2015. “Many such instances have occurred as a
result of meat being discovered in temples. That is why we recommend eating it 5 kilometres away from the temple. We’re not restricting your right to eat; we’re doing it to bring Hindus
and Muslims closer together,” he explained.
Sarma also stated that it is not solely the responsibility of Hindus to maintain communal harmony. He added, “Muslims must reciprocate and take Hindu sensitivities into account.”
“Now, if the Opposition had said today that the rule should be 6 kilometres instead of 5 kilometres, it would have opened a new chapter in the state’s communal harmony.” Sarma stated, “All I ask is that you leave 5 kilometres for us… You have every right to eat it anywhere you choose… If you don’t, I’ll be grateful, but I’ll never stop you from eating it. I respect your liberties.”
Sarma agreed to an amendment proposed by AIUDF’s Islam to remove the word “buffaloes” from the bill’s definition. The Bill did not distinguish between different cattle kinds when it was proposed, instead stating that it would apply to all cattle, including “bulls, bullocks, cows, heifer, calves, male and female buffaloes, and buffalo calves.” Buffaloes will be
deleted from the definition following the modification.
In response to the objections from the Congress, Sarma stated that the Act was first presented in 1950 by the first Chief Minister of Assam, Gopinath Bordoloi (Congress).“In this Bill, we haven’t included anything new… according to the 1950 Act cattle could not be butchered until
they were 14 years old. We’ve just added that a cow, regardless of age, cannot be butchered.”
“Apart from that, we have said that cattle should not be slaughtered outside slaughterhouses whereas the 1950 Act indicated animals should not be slaughtered outside the ‘place
prescribed.’” We’ve added two more points: animals cannot be transported via Assam (unless they have legal documentation) and the 5-kilometer rule.”
Sarma concluded that anyone found guilty under the new rule faces a minimum sentence of three years in prison (extendable up to eight years) and a fine of Rs 3 lakh (with a maximum fine of Rs 5 lakh), or both. The punishment will be doubled for repeat offenders. It does,
however, allow for some exceptions, such as “religious occasions” when “slaughter of cattle, not being a cow, heifer, or calf” is permitted.
Before we go any further, it’s crucial to understand what Cattle Census is attempting to portray. The population of states that have passed laws prohibiting cattle slaughter has decreased. The number of animals on the farm has decreased by 6%. Many cattle prevention
rules exempt buffaloes, which has resulted in a large increase in the number of buffaloes.
The bill proposed, according to the state, is an attempt to underline Article 48 of the Indian Constitution. “The State shall attempt to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines, and shall, in particular, take steps to preserve and improve breeds, and prohibit the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle,”
according to the article. At the same time, the bill appears to be an attack on the people’s basic right to food. Several important decisions have recognised this fundamental right.
Instead of fully tipping to one side, there should be a perfect balance between the two of them.
1 The Hindu, “Assam Assembly passes cow protection Bill” Published on 14 th August 2021.
2 The Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021
3 Financial Express Online, “Explained: What is Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021, its provisions,
punishment and why the opposition is against it” Published on August 14, 2021.
4 The Free Press Journal, “Assam Assembly passes Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021: All you need to know”
Published on 13 th August, 2021.
5 Tora Agarwal, “Assam cattle preservation bill 2021 passed in Assembly after Opposition walkout” (The Indian
Express) Published on 14 th August, 2021.