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Why does Opposition have a beef with Assam's cow protection bill?

It did not take long for controversy to erupt when Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma tabled The Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021, in the state assembly on July 12. 

Himanta Biswa Sarma Assam cow protection bill explained why is it controversial-VPN
Guwahati, First Published Jul 13, 2021, 10:24 PM IST
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It did not take long for controversy to erupt when Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma tabled The Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021, in the state assembly on July 12. 

The opposition is up in arms against the Bill that Chief Minister Sarma said is aimed at checking the smuggling of cows to Bangladesh. 

Let us examine the provisions of this Bill a little more closely. The Bill restricts the sale of beef in areas of the state dominated by non-beef consuming communities. It also restricts the sale of beef within a 5-kilometre radius of temples and Vaishnav monasteries. 

The Bill replaces an earlier version of the same legislation from 1950 that allows the slaughter of cattle above the age of 14 that are debilitated. The Bill adds on to the older provision and aims to regulate the slaughter, consumption and transport of cattle. 

It states that only certified cattle can be slaughtered in licensed and recognised slaughterhouses. The Bill does not allow anyone to sell beef or beef products except if permitted by the government. 

Beef will not be allowed to be sold in areas with the majority of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and other non-beef eating communities. Also, beef will not be allowed to be sold in the vicinity of any other religious institution belong to the Hindu religion. 

The violation of the regulatory aspect of the Bill, which required the sale of cattle in recognised animal markets, could lead to the cancellation of the license of the market. Cattle can be seized so can carcasses and vehicles used for transport. Thereafter, the cattle will be handed over to 'gaushalas' or similar institutions. 

The Bill also intends to ban the transportation of cattle to and from Assam and within the state unless authorities permit the movement for 'bona fide or animal husbandry purposes while following the guidelines as per the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.' 

No permission is required for transport to grazing fields, animal husbandry or agricultural purposes. Violating the provisions may result in a jail term of 3-8 years and fines between Rs 3-5 lakh. 

'It is a bid to polarise people'

The Bill is likely to restrict supply to Christian-majority states in the northeastern areas where beef is consumed widely by most, regardless of religion. 

Criticising the new Bill, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma said he would approach the Centre if the new law affected the transit of cattle from other states to Meghalaya.

He further said all steps would be taken by the Meghalaya government to ensure that the supply of cattle is not hampered because of the law to be passed by the Assam government. 

The Bill has also been criticised by Congress and the All India United Democratic Front as potentially leading to communal tensions and affecting many who are involved in the cattle business. 

The All Assam Minority Students Union also urged the government not to interfere with people's food preferences and habits. 

AIUDF legislator Aminul Islam said, "There is a ploy to control the cattle export market by targeting a particular community in the continuous bid to polarise people. The government would be aware that six of the largest beef exporters in India are leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh." 

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