Amid the chaos over the Centre’s recent rules banning the sale of cattle for slaughter in markets, the Uttar Pradesh police ordered the use of the stringent National Security Act for cow slaughter and smuggling cases in the state. This was among directives issued by Director General of Uttar Pradesh Police Sulkhan Singh on Monday during a meeting to review the law and order situation in the state. The National Security Act allows for preventive detention, without bail or trial, under certain circumstances.

Though the directive itself is not new – it was issued for the first time in 2015, when the Samajwadi Party was in power – senior police officials said it had not been strictly implemented. “The new directive is a reminder of the existing one and emphasises on how it should be strictly implemented from now onward,” said a senior police official from the Lucknow headquarters who did not wish to be identified.

The directive calls for strict action to stop cow slaughter and illegal transport of cow for slaughter. It further states that “criminals involved in such acts” should be booked under the National Security Act or the Uttar Pradesh Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act.”

However, it does not specify the circumstances under which the two Acts would be applied.

The National Security Act allows for the preventive detention for up to a year, allowing the state or Centre to hold someone in custody without bail or trial, if they believe the person can act in a way that poses a threat to the security of the state/country or maintaining of public order.

The senior police official from the Lucknow headquarters said that though the directives did not state it clearly, “it is understood that the National Security Act will be enforced in cow slaughter cases where public order is threatened”

Under the existing Uttar Pradesh Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1955, it is illegal to slaughter a cow, bull or bullock anywhere in the state and the offence is punishable by a prison term of up to seven years.

Danger zone

The Uttar Pradesh police is not the first to state enforce the National Security Act for cow slaughter and smuggling. In neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, there were several instances of people being detained under the Act for alleged cow slaughter between 2014 and 2016, including a case involving an office bearer of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s minority cell, who was expelled from the party and booked under the Act after alleged beef was recovered from his house.

Senior officials in the Uttar Pradesh Police, who did not wish to be identified, said that similar detentions under the National Security Act for alleged cow slaughter have been made in their state too, but did not specify any.

However, a petition against one such detention was filed in the Allahabad High Court earlier this year. The petitioner, a resident of Mawai Aheer village in in the Jalaun district of Uttar Pradesh was detained along with his son in March 2016, under the National Security Act, for their alleged involvement in the alleged slaughter of 48 cows whose remains were found scattered in a farmland in Mohari village in Jalaun. A website that publishes legal news was the first and only one to report on the court’s judgment. The petitioner contended that he was falsely implicated in this case.

Though it upheld the detention of the accused, the bench hearing the case made an important observation about the grounds on which such a stringent Act could be imposed.

 “An act of slaughtering a cow in the secrecy of one own house in the dark hours probably because of poverty or lack of employment or hunger, would perhaps only involve a law and order issue and could not be said to stand on the same footing as a situation where a number of cattle have been slaughtered outside in public view and the public transport of their flesh or an incident where aggressive attack is made by the slaughterers against the complaining public, which may involve infractions of public order.”

With the lack of clarity in the Uttar Pradesh police’s directives, however, and given the environment of cow-protectionism and vigilantism in the country, such an order could be misused, said experts. “The police have to be more specific about such directives,” said Prakash Singh, former Director General of Uttar Pradesh Police and a writer on police reforms. “Such directives cannot be for all cases. They ideally should be applied in extreme situations only.”