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13 Jun 2017

Beef rule defiance in hills - Meghalaya Assembly passes resolution on cattle trade notification

Chief minister Mukul Sangma at the special Assembly session in Shillong on Monday.
Telegraph picture
Andrew W. Lyngdoh, TT, Shillong, June 12: After 'God's Own Country', today was the turn of the 'Abode of Clouds' to oppose the rules aimed at regulating cattle trade and cow slaughter by invoking the need to maintain the "federal and secular" character of the Constitution.
In a special session, the Meghalaya Assembly unanimously passed a government resolution asking the Centre to immediately withdraw the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017, which were notified by the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change on May 23.
The Kerala Assembly had passed a similar resolution four days ago.
While tabling the three-page resolution, chief minister Mukul Sangma termed the rules as a "dangerous assault" on federalism while claiming that they would hamper the socio-economic, cultural and religious rights of the people.
In the resolution, the chief minister said the notified rules suffer from "serious shortcomings" and have an "adverse impact" on the economy and culture of the state.
At the same time, he said the rules are way beyond the scope and subject to prevent infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on animals as set out in the preamble to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. He said this infringes upon the rights of the states to regulate items enlisted in the State List to the Constitution.
Stating that agriculture, animal husbandry and cattle market are covered in the State List, he said states alone have exclusive jurisdiction to legislate on these matters.
He said the rules contravene Section 38 as they go beyond the scope of the central act and also contravene Section 28 of the act which contemplates the killing of certain animals subject to the provisions of the Cattle Preservation Act.
Referring to Rule 8 of the rules, Sangma said the rules prohibiting organising of animal markets 25km from any state border or within 50km from the international boundary would result in large scale disruption of the economy, including livelihood in the border areas. Meghalaya shares a 443-km boundary with Bangladesh and over 800km with Assam.
On Rule 22, he said this provision restricting sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter in animal markets would be a major embargo crippling the economy of a predominantly tribal society whose indigenous population is more than 85 per cent.
Stating that cattle meat is an integral part of the dietary habits of the tribal populace of Meghalaya, the chief minister said beef is one of the chief sources of protein.
Providing statistics, he said the demand for beef across Meghalaya was 23,634 metric tonnes in 2015-16 while beef production in the state was only 12,834 MT. The deficit was imported.
Further, Sangma said the prohibition on sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter would not only affect the livelihood of over 5.7 lakh households, which are involved in cattle rearing, but also the right of the people to have a diet of their choice and celebrate religious, cultural and social ceremonies.
Pointing to the India Health Report on Nutrition 2015, which surveyed child under-nutrition in India has put the prevalence of stunting of children, under five years of age, rampant in Meghalaya (42.9 per cent) against the national average of 38.7 per cent.
The government is addressing the nutrition security by providing a mixed diet in the school midday meal basket, which as on today, lacks non-vegeterian sources of food, he added.
Informing that the state fully supports the intent of the principal act to prevent infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on animals, he said in 2016, the state government has constituted the State Animal Welfare Board and District Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
"These rules in their present form will severely hamper the socio-economic, cultural and religious rights of the people of the state guaranteed in the Constitution under Article 21 and Article 26," he said.
Demanding the withdrawal of the rules, Sangma said, "The rules should be immediately withdrawn so as to maintain the federal and secular character of our Constitution or be faced with a situation where law prohibits some activity while everyday life practises it on a large scale because of harsh economic realities, a situation, surely to be avoided at all costs."
Legislators cutting across political lines pledged their support to the resolution, but asked the government to ensure that the resolution adopted reaches a logical conclusion.
Almost every legislator from the 16-member Opposition bench spoke out in support of the resolution.
HSPDP legislator Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit, who wanted the government to ensure the fructification of the resolution unlike earlier resolutions, pointed out that the rules have put a "virtual ban" on cow slaughter.
However, NPP legislator James P.K. Sangma cautioned that the "apprehension" expressed was "unwanted".
"There is no need to panic as cow slaughter regulation lies entirely with the states. There is also no danger to the federal structure. It is in our hands what we choose to do, and these rules will not stand constitutional scrutiny," James said.
There are certain provisions of the rules, like the need to check diseased animals, which need to be taken into consideration, he added.
On imposing a particular dietary habit on the people, James said, "I do not think anyone can dictate what we eat."
UDP legislator Paul Lyngdoh said time and again in the past there have been attempts by several governments to bring such a ban.
He said in 1982, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had written to chief ministers of 14 states in which she stressed that the ban on cow slaughter should not be allowed to be circumvented.
Another UDP legislator, Jemino Mawthoh expressed concern over the presence of cow vigilantes or the gau rakshaks.
The chief minister assured the House that the government would utilise all available options to ensure that the resolution fructifies.
With Meghalaya going into the polls next year, the rules restricting cattle trade and cow slaughter could surely become a major talking point in talking on the BJP.

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