Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Monday tabled a bill in the state Legislative Assembly aimed at regulating “slaughter, consumption, illegal transportation” of cattle, reported The Indian Express. The Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021, bans the sale and purchase of beef items 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).

This is a unique provision in the Bill as other states with anti-cattle slaughter legislations do not exclude specific areas to sell or buy beef and its products. If passed, the new Bill will replace the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950, which Sarma said lacked sufficient legal provisions to protect cows.

As part of the draft Bill, cattle slaughter in the state can be done only with the permission of the authorities and at a licenced slaughterhouse after government veterinary officers issue fitness certificates, reported NDTV.

The proposed law does not distinguish between different cattle types. It applies to all cattle that includes “bulls, bullocks, cows, heifer, calves, male and female buffaloes and buffalo calves”. Both Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, in their anti-slaughter acts, include only cow progeny, but not buffaloes.

As part of the old legislation, cattle slaughter is allowed only for cattle aged over 14 years or those that are unfit subject to a “fit-for-slaughter certificate” issued by a local veterinary officer. The proposed legislation says that the approval certificate for all cattle is required for slaughter but adds that a cow cannot be slaughtered regardless of age.

The Bill also bans the transport of cattle without a licence to states where cattle slaughter is not regulated by law. It adds that cattle cannot be transported within the state without documents.

The proposed legislation also empowers police officers, not below the rank of sub-inspector, and registered veterinary officers to enter and inspect any slaughterhouse for violations. If violations are found, the accused cannot get bail till the public prosecutor is heard on the petition.

The accused can face imprisonment for three years, which can be extended up to eights years and fined Rs 3 lakh with limit up to Rs 5 lakh.

On the proposed legislation, Leader of the Opposition Debabrata Saikia said it has many problematic areas and are being examined by legal experts. “For example, the 5 km rule about beef – a stone can be laid and a ‘temple’ can be ‘built’ anywhere by anyone,” he said. “So it becomes very ambiguous. This may lead to a lot of communal tension.”

The Opposition said it will push for amendments to the Bill. “This is not a Bill to protect cows, or even respect cows,” All India United Democratic Front leader Aminul Islam said. “This has been brought to hurt the sentiments of the Muslims and polarise communities further. We oppose it and will try and bring in amendment resolutions.”