The Assam Legislative Assembly on Friday passed the Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021, amid bedlam in the House, with opposition members staging a walkout after their demand to send the draft to a select committee wasn't considered.
Cows can only be slaughtered with government permission, the bill says, and only in licenced slaughterhouses. Such facilities, however, cannot operate within a five-kilometres radius of temples, xatras, or areas where non-beef eating communities have a majority. Neither can cow meat be sold or bought in such localities. Cows younger than 14 years and calves can't be slaughtered.
The bill also restricts the transportation of the animals within and outside the state without government permission.
Any violation would be a non-bailable offence, leading to jail terms of between three and eight years.
Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, while tabling the bill, said it will help build communal harmony.
"In lower Assam and Barak Valley, there have been several incidents of violence between communities due to cow slaughter and beef being found in temples. Our bill has no ill intensions. No good Muslim has opposed it," Mr Sarma said.
The bill was first proposed by Assam Governor Jagdish Mukhi in his welcome speech on day-one of the Assembly after the BJP's second term in government began last June. He said it was needed to protect the "sacred animal" that provides us with "life-sustaining milk".
It now awaits Mr Mukhi's nod to replace the existing Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950.
Section 5 of the older Act permitted slaughter on the issuance of certificates by veterinarians if the bovines were over 14 years of age or have become permanently incapacitated for work or breeding. Section 6 says bovines can be slaughtered only in places specified by authorities -- but Section 13 waives this rule during Eid.
The opposition had suggested at least 75 changes to the new bill, demanding that it be handed over to a select committee of the House.
"According to statistics, there are 19.327 crore cows in Assam. Cows are not endangered animals. Why are laws being sought for conservation?" All India United Democratic Front legislator Aminul Islam said.
The matter, he alleged, has been looked at by the government only from a religious perspective.
Assam is at the heart of a cow-smuggling nexus in which. The animal is often transported to Bangladesh through the state's porous borders in Karimganj in the south and Dhubri and South Salmara in the west. Some smugglers also use the Meghalaya and West Bengal routes to take the animals to the neighbouring country.