scorecardresearch
Follow Us:
Tuesday, January 18, 2022
Premium

Explained: How amendment makes Assam cattle Act even more stringent

In August, the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 2021 replaced the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950, on the ground that the latter lacked sufficient legal provisions to regulate the slaughter, consumption and transportation of cattle.

Written by Tora Agarwala | Guwahati |
Updated: January 2, 2022 7:35:30 am
The Act — ostensibly passed to check cattle smuggling to Bangladesh — prohibits inter-state transport of cattle to and from Assam without valid documents.

Last week, the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 2021, was made more stringent through an amendment in the Winter Session of the Assam Assembly. The original legislation had been passed on August 13.

The new law

In August, the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 2021 replaced the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950, on the ground that the latter lacked sufficient legal provisions to regulate the slaughter, consumption and transportation of cattle.

The Act bars sale and purchase of beef or beef products in areas “predominantly inhabited by Hindu, Jain, Sikh and other non beef-eating communities”, or “within a radius of 5 km” of any temple or sattra (Vaishnavite monasteries).

The Act — ostensibly passed to check cattle smuggling to Bangladesh — prohibits inter-state transport of cattle to and from Assam without valid documents.

The legislation was initially meant to be applicable to all cattle (cows, bulls, bullocks, buffaloes). Before it became a law, buffaloes were removed from the definition. While it prohibits slaughter of a cow under any circumstances, other cattle can be slaughtered subject to a “fit for slaughter” certificate.

The law gives authorities the power to “enter and inspect any premises” on the basis of suspicion. It provides for a minimum jail term of three years (extendable up to eight years) and a Rs 3 lakh fine (with the upper limit Rs 5 lakh). For repeat offenders, the punishment will be doubled.

The amendments

The main amendments include a change in the transport permissions to cattle within the state and two new provisions that provide more teeth to the police.

The original legislation had prohibited inter-district movement of cattle within Assam without valid documents. The amendment now allows movement from one district to another, provided these do not border Bangladesh, and provided those transporting the cattle are registered under the Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Department, and have permits to transport the cattle for bonafide agricultural or animal husbandry purposes or for trade.

The amendments empower the police to enter the house of an accused, search and seize properties if they have a “prima facie reason to believe” that the properties have been acquired in the last six years with money earned from illegal cattle trade. This provision also places the burden of proof on the accused, saying: “Provided that the burden of proving that the property so attached or seized has not been illegally acquired through sale or transportation of cattle in violation of any of the provision under this Act, shall be on the person affected”.

Another amendment allows for the sale of seized vehicles, boats and vessels through “public auction” after being produced before the appropriate court.

Criticism

The Act — as well as the amendments — has drawn criticism for the Opposition for being “unconstitutional”, with MLAs saying it places disproportionate power in the hands of the police.

Independent MLA Akhil Gogoi argued it was a “regulatory Act”, not a “prohibitory Act”. “Regulatory Acts do not have such stringent provisions. But this one has provisions like placing the burden of proof on the accused, which acts like the Foreigners’ Act”. He said it was aimed at marginalising religious minorities .

The Congress’s Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha said few laws in India have such stringent provisions. “The police will definitely take advantage of this law… seizing properties, auctioning off vehicles… all this is nothing but harassment.”

The AIUDF’s Aminul Islam said there should be no restriction on inter-district movement of cattle for agrarian purposes, including districts with an international border. “Why leave out border districts… do people living in the border districts not practise agriculture?” he said.

Opposition MLAs had suggested several amendments in the Assembly but eventually they withdrew all, barring Gogoi, who refused to do so.

Senior lawyers said some parts of the amendment may not withstand legal scrutiny. They said Article 301 of the Constitution allows for the freedom of trade and commerce throughout the territory of India, and restriction on such transport — as in this law — requires assent from the President of India. The law does not have that.

Lawyers feel the most alarming amendment is placing the burden of proof on the accused. In the “rarest of rare” laws, like the Foreigners’ Act, the burden of proof is on the accused and not the state, which gives arbitrary power to the police, they said. “The police just need to bring in the allegation. The person against whom the allegation is brought has to prove that he is innocent. It has been done to show how strict the law is but will have far-reaching consequences,” said a Gauhati High Court lawyer.

Government stand

In the Assembly, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the government would act as per the BJP’s election manifesto. On the argument that there could be no restriction of transport for trade, PTI quoted him as saying: “We can restrict movement of these cows if they are procured from illegal sources… If it is for farming, mining… we will allow it with a transit pass.”

Sarma said they wanted to only stop the slaughter of cows — not destroy the agrarian economy, as many critics have pointed out. “That is why we have now allowed intra-state transportation of cattle,” he said. On seizure of vehicles, he said it would help stop the cattle trade that was still going on. “Around 20-30 per cent illegal trade is still happening.”

Since the Act was passed in August, Sarma said 406 cases were registered, 2,808 cattle rescued, 240 persons arrested and 68 vehicles seized; one person was killed in police action and five others were injured.

📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines

For all the latest Explained News, download Indian Express App.

  • Newsguard
  • The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.
  • Newsguard
0 Comment(s) *
* The moderation of comments is automated and not cleared manually by indianexpress.com.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement