Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Monday tabled in the state Assembly a bill to regulate the slaughter, consumption and transportation of cattle.
While it does not impose an outright ban on the consumption of beef, the proposed law will forbid the sale and purchase of the meat in areas predominantly inhabited by "Hindu, Jain, Sikh and other non-beef-eating communities".
The new legislation will check transportation of bovines within the state or outside, if valid documents are not made available to the authorities. The restriction on transportation of cattle for slaughter also refers to movement of bovines to states where slaughter is not regulated.
This provision has caused concern that the movement of beef and cattle for agricultural purposes to Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland could be affected. Beef is common in these three Christian-majority states and they depend on transport from Assam. Assam remains the main gateway for transportation of goods from the rest of India to the wider northeast region.
Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma had expressed concern about the bill before it was introduced. Meghalaya procures cattle from a number of states such as West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Telangana, which is transported through Assam. Last week, The New Indian Express reported the animal husbandry department in Meghalaya had "noticed a shortage of beef in the market".
On July 10, Sangma was quoted by The Hindu as saying, "We will raise the issue not only with the Assam government but also the Centre if the law affects transit of cattle to Meghalaya from other States... Transportation of cattle from these states to Meghalaya should not be a problem. All steps will be taken from our side to ensure that supply is not hampered because of the law to be passed by the Assam government."
In June, Shillong MP Vincent Pala had declared Meghalaya had all legal rights to bring cattle from outside the state. He was responding to claims of shortage in cattle supply to Meghalaya on account of plans in Assam to introduce a cattle protection law.
The Khasi Jaintia Butchers Welfare Association had claimed in June "no cattle are coming from outside the state after Assam had made the announcement to come up with the bill".
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Declaring he would take up the matter of cattle transportation, Pala was quoted by The Shillong Times as saying “We [Meghalaya] consume the highest amount of beef in the entire country and it cannot be stopped only because Assam lies in between."