Assam Cattle Preservation Bill passed in Assembly amidst Oppn walkout and chants of ‘Jai Shree Ram’

The bill states that sale and purchase of beef cannot be carried out in a 5 km radius of a temple as well as in areas inhabited by non-beef eating communities like Hindus, Jains etc.

Assam Cattle Preservation ActImage Courtesy:

The Assam state Assembly, on August 13, passed the Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021, even as the Opposition staged a walkout. The new law replaces the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1951 and prohibits the sale and purchase of beef in areas inhabited by non-beef-eating communities and within a radius of 5 km of a temple or a satra (Vaishnavite monastery).

The state’s Chief Minister Hemanta Biswa Sarma celebrated the passing of the bill as fulfilling BJP’s poll promise. “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,” he said.

During the session on August 13, the Opposition Congress, AIUDF and CPI (M) proposed at least 75 amendments and asked the government to refer the bill to an Assembly select committee for further discussion, but these proposals were rejected by Sarma. In protest, thus, the opposition walked out. After Speaker Biswajit Daimary announced the bill as passed, slogans of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Jai Shree Ram’ were heard from the BJP MLAs in the House, reported Indian Express. AIUDF MLA from Dhing, Aminul Islam even presented figures that as per a 2020 survey there were 1,09,09,327 cows in Assam, to prove a point that cows were not endangered in the state. He said that the 5km rule was as good as saying that there should be no beef consumption/cow slaughter in the entire state.

Sarma countered saying that this will not apply to all kinds of temples, there will be rules to define what kind of temple will be considered. He feebly argued that the legislation is intended to increase harmony and brotherhood between the two communities, and was not aimed at “restricting anyone from eating beef.”

He said that most communal tensions reported either in Barak Valley districts and Lower Assam since 2015 have been connected to beef and said that the onus of maintaining communal harmony should not be just on the Hindus. Samra only accepted one amendment, to  remove ‘buffaloes’ from the definition of cattle in the Bill

The law prescribes a penalty of imprisonment up to 8 years and/or fine up to 5 lakh for contravening the provisions of the law.

Assam’s previous cattle preservation laws

The Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1951 (Later amended to Assam Cattle Preservation (Amendment) Act, 1962), which now stands repealed, laid down provisions for bulls, bullocks, cows, calves, male and female buffaloes, and buffalo calves. It allowed slaughter of cattle older than 14 years of age or those which became permanently incapacitated from work or breeding due to injury. The penalty was imprisonment up to maximum of 6 months or fine which may extend up to Rs 1,000.

Salient features of the Bill

  • Obtaining “fit for slaughter certificate” from a Veterinary Officer
  • Such a certificate cannot be given for cows. It also protects heifer or calves under the age of 14 years. Other types of cattle can be slaughtered only if they are over 14 years of age, or have become permanently incapacitated from work, breeding, accidental injury or deformity.
  • The Veterinary Officer is required to maintain records of reason for refusal to grant permission for slaughter for future reference and inspection by a “prescribes authority” appointed by the state government.
  • This prescribed authority has been granted wide powers under section 5 of this Bill to “at any time for the purpose of satisfying itself as to the legality or propriety of such certificate or order for refusal or such certificate issued by a Veterinary Officer under this section, call for examination of the record of any case, and may pass orders thereon as it deems fit.”
  • Cattle for which a certificate has been granted can only be slaughtered at a licensed slaughter house recognised under a Central or State Act.
  • The state government can exempt certain places of worship or certain occasions for slaughter of cattle (other than cow, heifer or calves) for religious purposes.

Transportation of cattle

  • A valid permit is required to transfer cattle within Assam as well as across state lines.
  • Transportation of cattle from outside the state or within the state to a place within the state where cattle slaughter is punishable under the Act is prohibited.
  • Cattle transportation must be carried in accordance with provisions of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
  • Exceptions are made for transporting cattle for grazing, agriculture, animal husbandry purposes or sale in an animal market.
  • A permit has to be obtained for transport of cattle for agricultural or animal husbandry purposes
  • A record of all permits issued and reasons for rejection will be maintained for future reference and inspection by the state government or any officer appointed by it.
  • A person will be deemed to be transporting cattle for the purpose of slaughter unless contrary is proved to the satisfaction of the concerned authority or officer, by the person who has to show that he has obtained the permit for transportation for agricultural or animal husbandry purposes.
  • In case of violation of these provisions, the transporter can be detained and his vehicle seized.

Purchase and sale of beef

  • Purchase or sale of beef is prohibited in areas predominantly inhabited by Hindu, Jian, Sikh or other non-beef eating communities.
  • Purchase or sale of beef is prohibited within a 5 km radius of a temple, satra or religious institutions belonging to Hindu religion or any other institution or area as may be prescribed by the competent authority.

Punishment for violation of provisions

  • No person accused of an offense punishable under this Act, if in custody, can be released on bail or on his own bond, unless the Public Prosecutor has been given an opportunity of being heard on the application for such release. Those found guilty can be incarcerated for 3- 8 years, and also fined between Rs 3 lakhs to Rs 5 lakhs. Repeat offenders can expect to be faced with double the penalty.

Issues with the legislation

This Bill has certain provisions that can be misused to harass people, particularly those hailing from beef-eating communities.

For example, if a person from a beef-eating community lives in an area inhabited predominantly by non-beef eating communities, he will either have to give up beef consumption or ensure sale and purchase are carried out in an area outside the neighbourhood. Bringing home purchased meat could also be difficult given how it will be difficult to prove where it was purchased. A virtual target could be placed on his back, only because of what he eats as neighbours could feel empowered to surveil and complain against such people. Sometimes, such complaints can be made out of sheer vendetta or for gentrification purposes.

Similarly, if a new temple or satra is built in any area, automatically a 5 km radius around it becomes a no-beef zone, thus causing inconvenience to beef-eating residents of the area. This can once again be used as a strategy to push beef-eating communities into ghettos and further marginalise them. This could also be a shot in the arm for cow-vigilantes and lead to communal violence and mob lynching in the name of cow-protection.

Placing the burden of proof that cattle are being transported for agriculture or animal husbandry on the transporter of the cattle also makes them vulnerable to surveillance or even attacks by cow-protection groups.

The Bill also gives wide powers to the police to enter and inspect premises where they suspect any offense under the Act is being committed. This can be used as an intimidation tactic against minorities. Moreover, corrupt officials can easily turn this into an extortion racket.

Imprisonment for 3-8 years appears harsh for such a crime, and a fine of Rs 3-5 lakhs is rather steep. If we take a look at victims of mob-lynching in the name of the cow, most of them were dairy farmers. How can such people be expected to pay such large amounts as fines? Or is this yet another ploy for mass incarceration of such dairy farmers who traditionally hail from certain communities?

Finally, Assam shares its border with Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland, states where beef is consumed. If cattle transporters passing through Assam are under constant scrutiny, this could affect beef supply in these neighbouring states and harassment for their residents.


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