Assam Cattle Preservation Bill 2021: "Cannot sell Beef within 5 km radius of any Temples"

In an exhaustive yet controversial law tabled on the first day of the budget session, which was hinted a month back by Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma on a background of curbing the smuggling of cattle from the state to Bangladesh, despite insisting the fact earlier that it envisages the imposition of a complete ban on the transport of cattle outside the state — now it also seeks to provide for the preservation of cattle by regulating their slaughter, consumption, and illegal transportation as well.

Source: Oneindia

The proposed Bill also says that cattle can be transported from one district to another and outside Assam for slaughter purposes only when proper documentation is available, which includes a veterinarian certification. Assam is the first Indian state that proposes to ban the trade and slaughter of cattle in specific areas. The necessity for the Bill, as per CM Sarma, is that the already existent Assam Cattle Preservation Act (1950) lacks an elaborative legal and penal framework to prevent smuggling, slaughtering, and selling of beef in specific areas of the State.

The term ‘cattle’ shall apply to bulls, bullocks, cows, heifer, calves, male and female buffaloes, and buffalo calves and shall apply to the whole of the state.

The Bill prescribes punishment of not less than three years in jail and/or a fine that may vary between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 5 lakh for the offences committed. Also, crimes covered under the new proposed law–Assam Cattle Preservation Bill 2021–will be non-bailable. The Bill prescribes punishment of not less than three years in jail and/or a fine that may vary between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 5 lakh and doubled punishments for the second-time offenders.

However, opposition parties have expressed concerns that the Bill would polarise the society between Hindus and Muslims, and they are seeking amendments to this Bill, as per sources. Also, certain ambiguous sections in the Bill seek to limit the sale of Beef in proximity to Sattra (Vaishnavite monasteries) and Temples of different faiths such as Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and other non-beef-eating communities and the concentrated places of the state where they live.

"The bill has many problematic aspects: for example, a stone can be laid and a ‘temple’ can be ‘built’ anywhere by anyone — so it becomes very ambiguous. This may lead to a lot of communal tension”

— Debabrata Saikia, MLA (Congress) and Leader of Opposition

When enacted as a law, the proposed Assam Cattle Preservation Bill 2021 will further prohibit a person from slaughtering cattle unless he has got the necessary certificate issued by the registered veterinary officer of a particular area. According to the Bill, the veterinary officer will issue a certificate only if the cattle is over 14 years of age. A cow, heifer (a cow that has borne no or one calf), or calf may be slaughtered only if it is permanently incapacitated.

Only duly licensed or recognized slaughterhouses may butcher cattle per the proposed Cattle Preservation Bill.

It is to be noted that there is an escalation of power provided to the law enforcement agencies to "enter and inspect" the premises of any slaughterhouse which was only limited to Veterinary officers in the Assam Cattle Protection Act (1950). The Bill gives police officers, not below the rank of sub-inspector “or any other person allowed by the government” the power to “enter and inspect any premises” within their jurisdiction where they have “reason to believe that an offense under the Act has been or is likely to be committed.”

There will, however, be no restriction on ferrying cattle for agricultural purposes within a district, and one does not need to take permission for transporting cattle to and from registered animal markets for sale and purchase within a district.

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