THE GUJARAT government Friday amended the state’s Animal Preservation Bill to entail a maximum punishment of life imprisonment and a minimum of 10 years for cow slaughter after it was passed in the assembly in the absence of the Opposition Congress and with the visitors’ gallery packed with saffron-clad Hindu priests.
The passage of the Gujarat Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, 2017 came eight months after seven Dalits were beaten by self-styled cow vigilantes for alleged cow slaughter in Una. The punishment for cow slaughter under the earlier law was imprisonment ranging from three to seven years. The new law also makes offences under the amended Act non-bailable.
The amendment was cleared after the Speaker suspended members of the Congress for creating a ruckus when the Bill was passed. Speaking on the amendment, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said, “I am not against any food.” Declaring that he wanted to make Gujarat “shakahari (vegetarian)”, Rupani said, “We do not want Jersey cows, but Gir and Kankreji cows instead.”
Rupani also described Gujarat as a “unique state”, which followed the tenets of Mahatma Gandhi — “non-violence and truth”. “This is Gandhi’s Gujarat, Sardar’s (Vallabhbhai Patel) Gujarat and (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi’s Gujarat,” said Rupani.
When the amendment Bill was introduced over a month ago, it had a maximum punishment of ten years imprisonment. On Friday, however, the ruling BJP moved a to enhance the punishment to a life-term.
In another major amendment, the Bill included a provision that vehicles caught in transporting cows, beef or beef products illegally will be forfeited to the state government. The maximum fine for the offence has also been increased from Rs 50,000 to one ranging from Rs 1 lakh-Rs 5 lakh.
Besides, the punishment for conviction for illegal transportation of cow, beef or beef products has been increased from three years imprisonment to seven years.
The Act allows transportation of animals of cow progeny with permission, but only between 7 pm and 5 am. The statement of the Bill reads, “In the year 2011, the State Government had made certain amendments in the said Act for better implementation of the Act. It is, however, experienced while implementing the said Act that still more stringent provisions are required to be made by amending the said Act for curbing the menace of illegal slaughtering of the animals covered under the said Act to provide for more stringent punishment and effectively check the rampant use of vehicles for transporting such animals.”
During the discussion on the Bill, Minister of State for Home Pradeepsinh Jadeja said, “This is not a Bill, but a feeling of crores of Indians. It is my humble attempt to give voice to the cows being killed by butchers. A single drop of cow blood falling on earth pains Hindus. With this law, Vijaybhai Rupani’s government will make Gujarat cow-slaughter-free.”
Jadeja also offered his respects to the “Hindu saints” in the visitors gallery, and said that he was he was “feeling proud as a Hindu” to introduce the Bill in the House.
One of those present in the gallery, Kaniramji Bapu of Dudhrej in Surendranagar district, an important religious seat of the maldhari community (cattle herders) in Gujarat, said, “We oppose cow slaughter and believe in its preservation. And so, we came here in support of the Act. Cows should be preserved and their slaughtering must end.”
Another religious figure, Mahant Vikramgiri from Ghela-Somnath of Jasdan in Rajkot district, said, “Around 300 sadhu-sants have come to Assembly. Since the government had announced that they will bring the Bill, we knew it in advance and are here to support it.”
In 2011, when Narendra Modi was chief minister of Gujarat, the state government had imposed a complete ban on slaughter of cows, transportation and selling of cow meat by amending the Act.