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Guwahati: The Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 2021, was amended in the assembly on Thursday, empowering the police to enter the house of an accused and inspect, search and seize properties acquired in the last six years with money earned from illegal cattle trade.
Amid a heated debate during the passage of The Assam Cattle Preservation (Amendment) Bill, 2021, chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said he wants to convey the message that Assam is a “tough state” while dealing with unlawful cattle trade.
Though opposition members had brought in several amendments to the bill, introduced on December 20, the suggestions were withdrawn after Sarma spoke, except those of independent MLA Akhil Gogoi, who stuck to his stand that the entire Act is “unconstitutional and communal” in nature.
On August 13, the assembly had passed The Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021, banning cattle slaughter and sale of beef in areas where Hindus, Jains and Sikhs are in a majority or within a five-kilometre radius of a temple or satra (Vaishnavite monasteries) or any other institution as maybe prescribed by authorities.
A new section has now been inserted in the Act that empowers an investigating officer to enter, inspect, search, seize and detain an accused and his/her movable or immovable properties accumulated in the previous six years with the income from illegal cattle trade.
“Provided that the burden of proving that the property so attached or seized has not been illegally acquired through sale or transportation of cattle in violation of any of the provision under this Act, shall be on the person affected,” a part of the amendment said.
On Gogoi’s criticism about the burden of proof on the accused, Sarma said other acts like the POCSO Act and NDPS Act along with the Foreigners Act also put the onus on the accused to prove himself or herself innocent.
The amended Act omitted a provision wherein the state government was authorised to exempt certain places of worship or occasions for slaughter of cattle other than calf, heifer and cow for religious purposes.
“There is no restriction on buffalo sacrifice in the temples and it can go on anytime without any permission from the competent authority. However, there will be no sacrifice of cows in the temples or any slaughter,” Sarma said.
It also allowed transport of cattle from one district to another within the state by issuing permits to agencies and farms registered under the Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Department, for bona fide agricultural or animal husbandry purposes or for transportation of cattle for trade for the said purposes.
However, transport of cattle to any district within Assam that has an international boundary is prohibited under the amended Act.
“We want to stop only the slaughter of cows and do not want to destroy the agrarian economy. That is why we have allowed intra-state transportation of cattle. We have prohibited the boundary districts to stop smuggling of cows to Bangladesh,” the chief minister said.
Further, the Amendment Act allowed sale of seized vehicles, boats and vessels, except cattle, through public auction after being produced before the appropriate court during inquiry or trial.
“The vehicles will be sold to stop the remaining cattle trade that is still going on. Around 20-30 per cent illegal trade is still happening,” Sarma said.
He informed the House that after the Act was passed in August, 406 cases were registered, 2,808 cattle rescued, 240 persons arrested, 68 vehicles seized, one person killed in police action and five others injured.
The chief minister said he is acting as per the election manifesto of the BJP, which has received a “huge mandate” from the people to run the government.
“I am a CM to realise the dreams that I have seen. I don’t care. I dream of Assam touching the sky,” he said.
Sarma appealed to people to slowly shift from the business of beef as “any violence” against animals is bad.
He also said a Rs 1,400-crore project is being planned in association with the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) to increase the milk output of the state to 10 lakh litres per day.
Earlier, participating in the discussion on the Bill, Congress member Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha urged the government to abolish the new clause to empower police to enter, search and seize six years’ properties of an accused on suspicion that these were procured through wealth from illegal cattle trade.
Congress MLA Abdur Rashid Mandal slammed the government over the amendment and said it will give “enormous power” to the police and will “legalise injustice”.
AIUDF member Aminul Islam said there should not be any restriction on inter-district movement of cattle for agrarian purposes, including districts sharing an international border.
CPI(M)’s Manoranjan Talukdar said the Act is already having an adverse impact on the rural economy with many cattle markets shut down and the poor farmers feeling the pain.