The Assam Legislative Assembly on Friday passed a cattle protection Bill even as Opposition parties protested against the government’s refusal to send the draft to a select committee for consideration and walked out of the House, PTI reported.

The Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021, prohibits the slaughter of cattle, except on certain religious occasions whenslaughter of cattle, not being a cow or heifer or calf” is permitted, The Indian Express reported.

The Bill bans the transport of cattle from and through Assam without proper documents. It also prohibits the sale of beef in areas where Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and other non-beef-eating communities predominantly live.

Selling beef is also banned within a five-kilometre radius of temples.

Violation of the new law will attract a jail term of up to eight years and a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh.

Congress’s Debabrata Saikia, the leader of the Opposition in the Assam Assembly, said the Bill will have an impact on the occupations of the “poorest of the poor”, The Indian Express reported. He added that the Bill must be forwarded to a select committee for more discussion.

Aminul Islam, an MLA from the All India United Democratic Front, also said that the Bill will cause big losses to people who rear cows. He questioned the need for a tough law to protect cows, given the fact that they were not even endangered, the newspaper reported.

The MLA added: “We appreciate the spirit behind the clause that says there should be no slaughter where non-beef eating communities reside. But the 5 km rule is problematic. There is no place in Assam that will fulfil these conditions. The government might as well have said that the slaughter is banned across the state.”

Defending the Bill, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma claimed that his government did not add any new provision to it. “Even in the 1950 Act [Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950] it said that cattle could not be slaughtered before the age of 14,” Sarma said, according to The Indian Express. “We have just added that a cow can’t be slaughtered, regardless of age. So the operative point is the same.

He added: “Apart from that, we have said that cattle should not be killed outside slaughter houses, while the 1950 Act said cattle should not be killed outside the ‘place prescribed.’ We have added two more points – cattle cannot be transported through Assam (without valid documents) and the 5 km rule.”

The Assam chief minister said the Bill will strengthen communal harmony and had no bad intentions.

“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,” he was quoted as saying by NDTV. “Our Bill has no ill intensions. No good Muslim has opposed it.”