Assam Assembly passes cattle protection bill amid protest

The BJP-led Assam government on Friday passed the much-debated ‘Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021’ to regulate slaughter, consumption and transportation of cattle amid protests by the opposition, with the Congress staging a walkout after its request to forward the legislation to a select committee was turned down.

The BJP members raised slogans of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Jai Shree Ram’ and thumped the desks when Speaker Biswajit Daimary declared the Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021 as passed.

The Congress and its electoral allies, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and the CPI-M, urged the government to send the bill to a select committee for scrutiny. They then staged a walkout after their proposal was not accepted.

The lone Independent legislator, Akhil Gogoi, who is also the President of the Raijor Dal, had walked out of the House when the bill was taken up for consideration.

Claiming that the bill was brought with no bad intention and it would strengthen communal harmony, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma rejected the opposition members’ demand.

About a clause in the bill that prohibits cow slaughter within a 5 km radius of temples or satras (religious place), the Chief Minister told the House that there are hundreds of kilometres of area in Assam with no temples, while 70,000-80,000 habitations in the state have no Hindus at all.

While introducing the bill on the opening day of the Budget Session of the Assam Assembly on July 12, Sarma, who also holds the home and political affairs porfolios, had said that the proposed legislation would also prevent smuggling and illegal trade of cattle.

The bill said that in the light of the experience over the years and in view of the shortcomings which have been observed, it is considered that there is an imperative need to enact a legislation to include sufficient legal provisions to regulate the slaughter, consumption and transportation of cattle by repealing the ‘Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950’.

Violation of the provisions of the new law entails imprisonment of up to eight years and a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh.

According to the new legislation, the veterinary officer would issue a certificate only if he is of the opinion that the bovine, not being a cow, is over 14 years of age.

A cow, heifer or calf may be slaughtered only if it is permanently incapacitated, the bill said, adding that duly licensed or recognised slaughter houses would be allowed to butcher cattle.

While most of the northeastern states have not reacted yet to Assam’s cow protection law, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma had said that the state government would take up the matter with the Centre if Assam’s new law affects the supply of beef to the state.

Smuggling of cows and other cattle to Bangladesh is rampant along five Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Assam, which share 4,096 km borders with the neighbouring country.