The Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021 which was tabled in the Assembly on July 12 by Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has sparked row in the state.
According to chief minister Sarma, the particular legislation aims to ban interstate transport of cows through Assam in order to control their smuggling to neighbouring Bangladesh. The preamble of the said bill says that the bill is to provide for the preservation of cattle by regulating their slaughter, consumption, illegal transportation and matters connected and incidental therewith.
The stringent measures for this purposes has been placed in sections 4(Prohibition of slaughter of cattle), 5(Prohibition of slaughter of cattle without certificate from competent authority), 6 (Prohibition of slaughter of cattle in places other than a slaughter house) 7(Prohibition on transport of cattle) and in section 8 that prohibits sale of beef and beef products.
Controversy spilled over immediately after tabling the Bill in the very first day of the budget session of the Assam Assembly, because of the inclusion of certain provisions in the Bill.
The section 4 read with section 5 of the bill has put a total ban on the slaughter of cows and her progeny which included bulls, bullocks, cows, heifers ,calves, male and female buffaloes and buffalo calves names of which are specifically mentioned in the Schedule annexed in the Bill.
While the section 4 mandates a total prohibition of slaughter of any cattle except those killed by accident and section 5 prohibits slaughter of cattle without a certificate in writing issued by the registered Veterinary Officer under Animal and Husbandry Department for the area in which the cattle is to be slaughtered.
Again sub section 2 of this section says that no certificate would be issued under the section 5(1) unless the Veterinary Officer is of the opinion that –(a) a cattle ,not being a cow ,is over fourteen years of age ;or(b)the cattle, not being a cow or heifer or calf ,has become permanently incapacitated from work or breeding due to accidental injury or deformity.
Though the Bill has been drafted in pursuance of the directive principles of State policy contained in Article 48 of the Constitution but doubt over the intention of the bill have been raised from different corners.
Critics of the Bill explicitly pointed out that the bill is arbitrary, unconstitutional as it intends to infringe the very fundamental rights guaranteed under Arts. 14, 19(1) (g),21 and 25 of the Constitution
Under article 48 of the constitution of India, the State shall endeavour of agriculture and to organise agriculture and animal husbandry animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milk and draught cattle.
The principal purpose of this article directs the state to take endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and the rest of the provisions of that article are ancillary to this principal purpose.
A total ban on the slaughter of all animals mentioned in the schedule of the Bill will bring a clear prohibition of the business and occupation of the butchers and its subsidiary undertakings such as the sale of hides, tannery, glue making, gut making and blood dehydrating etc.
Moreover there are lakhs of people in the state who, irrespective of their religious practices engaged in the cattle business would be affected and eventually a huge number of populations would lose their livelihood. Moreover though the state is empowered under Article 19(6) to impose reasonable restrictions for the interest of the general public but such restrictions cannot extend to total prohibition. The State may regulate but cannot annihilate a business which a citizen has a right to carry on.
The section 7 of the Bill imposes a total prohibition of transport of cattle even to outside the state where slaughter of cattle is not regulated by law. The section read as -7(1) “No person shall transport or cause to be transported any cattle without valid permit from (i) any place of other state through Assam to any place outside state of Assam, (ii) any place within the state of Assam to any place outside the state of Assam where slaughter of cattle is not regulated by law”.
If the transportation of cattle is restricted in accordance with the provisions of tabled bill then definitely it would ultimately affect thousands of poor families who want to sell their domestic cattle when they become incapacitated for work or breeding due to age or other deformities. The traditional agro economy of the state which has already been paralysed by the un-planned penetration of mechanised devises would again face another systematic threat by which people will compel to leave their traditional practices of taming cattle.
While section 5 of the bill allows for issuing certificate under certain restrictions but the same will become a hindrance for the common people for obtaining a certificate and as result a kind of syndicate as well as illegal market may flourish in the cattle business, transportation and also in beef market.
We must acknowledge the fact that although the state could put reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by Art. 19(1) (g) but such restrictions in no case extend to total embargo. The State may regulate trade or business but cannot annihilate a business which a citizen has a right to carry on.
The most important section of the bill is undoubtedly section 8 that read, “No person directly or indirectly sale or offer or expose for sale or buy beef or beef products in any form except at places permitted to do so by the competent authority: Provided that no such permission shall be granted in such area or areas which are predominantly inhabited by Hindus, Jain, Sikh and other non-beef eating communities or within a radius of 5 km of any temple, satra, or other religious institutions belonging to Hindu Religion or any other institution or area as may be prescribed by the competent authority.”
From a plain reading of sections 4,5,6,7 and 8 we may come to a conclusion that as the bill permits slaughter of cattle only in two grounds mentioned in sub section 2(a) and 2(b) of section 5 and totally wants to restrict transportation of cattle to the state, therefore sale of beef would be depend upon the whims of the competent authority.
We also may presume that in near future such authority may allow big corporate to open stall for selling beef in the state. The present bill attempts to strike on the right of choice in regards food that has been guaranteed under article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
In a judgement delivered by the Bombay High Court in 2017 remarked, “A citizen has a right to lead a meaningful life within the four corners of his house as well as outside his house. The state cannot prevent a citizen from possessing and consuming a particular type of food which is not injurious to health (or obnoxious).” If the state tries to restrict people on choosing food that is undoubtedly a bad sign for democracy.