Indiscipline and disruptions in Parliament are much talked about issues. Not only are disruptions a waste of Parliament's valuable time, these significantly taint the image of this esteemed institution. Commotion in Rajya Sabha over the introduction of Women's Reservation Bill and the subsequent suspension of 7 MPs has brought this issue back to the forefront. We thought it might be useful to research and highlight instances in the past when the House had had to deal with similar situations. According to the Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette of the Rajya Sabha, "The House has the right to punish its members for their misconduct whether in the House or outside it. In cases of misconduct or contempt committed by its members, the House can impose a punishment in the form of admonition, reprimand, withdrawal from the House, suspension from the service of the House, imprisonment and expulsion from the House." Mild offences are punished by admonition or reprimand (reprimand being the more serious of the two). Withdrawal from the House is demanded in the case of gross misconduct. 'Persistent and wilful obstructions' lead the Chairman to name and subsequently move a motion for suspension of the member. A member can be suspended, at the maximum, for the remainder of the session only. In an extreme case of misconduct, the House may expel a member from the House. According to a comment in the above rule book, "The purpose of expulsion is not so much disciplinary as remedial, not so much to punish members as to rid the House of persons who are unfit for membership." There have been several instances in the past when the Parliament has exercised its right to punish members. We pulled together a few instances: Rajya Sabha
|Unruly behaviour – Some instances|
|3-Sep-62||Shri Godey Murahari was suspended for the remainder of the session on 3 Septemebr 1962. He was removed by the Marshal of the House|
|25-Jul-66||Shri Raj Narain and Shri Godey Murahari were suspended for one week by two separate motions moved on 25 July 1966, by the Leader of the House (Shri M.C. Chagla) and adopted by the House. After they refused to withdraw, they were removed by the Marshal of the House. Next day, the Chairman expressed his distress and leaders of parties expressed their regret at the incident|
|12-Aug-71||The Minister of Parliamentary Affairs (Shri Om Mehta) moved a motion on 12 August 1971, for the suspension of Shri Raj Narain for the remainder of the session. The motion was adopted. Shri Raj Narain, on refusing to withdraw, was removed by the Marshal of the House|
Source: Rajya Sabha, Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette
|Expulsion – All instances (three in total)|
|15-Nov-76||Shri Subramanian Swamy was expelled on 15 November 1976 on the basis of the Report of the Committee appointed to investigate his conduct and activities. The Committee found his conduct derogatory to the dignity of the House and its members and inconsistent with the standards which the House expects from its members|
|23-Dec-05||Dr. Chhattrapal Singh Lodha was expelled on 23 December 2005, for his conduct being derogatory to the dignity of the House and inconsistent with the Code of Conduct, consequent on the adoption of a motion by the House agreeing with the recommendation contained in the Seventh Report of the Committee on Ethics|
|21-Mar-06||Dr. Swami Sakshi Ji Maharaj was expelled on 21 March 2006, for his gross misconduct which brought the House and its members into disrepute and contravened the Code of Conduct for members of Rajya Sabha, consequent on the adoption of a motion by the House agreeing with the recommendation of the Committee on Ethics contained in its Eighth Report|
Source: Rajya Sabha, Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette
|Unruly behaviour – Some instances|
|15-Mar-89||Commotion in the House over the Thakkar Commission report (Report of Justice Thakkar Commission of Inquiry on the Assassination of the Late Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi; revelations published in Indian Express before report tabled in Parliament) led to 63 MPs being suspended for a week. An opposition member belonging to the Janata Group (Syed Shahabuddin) who had not been suspended, submitted that he also be treated as suspended and walked out of the House. Three other members (GM Banatwalla, MS Gill and Shaminder Singh) also walked out in protest.|
|20-Jul-89||Demand for resignation of Govt. because of the adverse remarks made against it by the CAG in his report on Defence Services for the year 1988-89 saw commotion in the House. Satyagopal Misra dislodged microphone placed before the Chair and threw it in the pit of the House. (Sheila Dikshit was the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs). No member was suspended.|
Source: Subhash Kashyap, Parliamentary Procedure (Second Edition)
Last week, the Assam Legislative Assembly passed the Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021. The Bill seeks to regulate the slaughter and transportation of cattle and the sale of beef. It replaces the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950, which only provided for restrictions on cattle slaughter. In this post, we examine the Bill and compare it with other state laws on cattle preservation. For a detailed analysis of the Bill, see here.
Cattle preservation under the Bill
The Bill prohibits the slaughter of cows of all ages. Bulls and bullocks, on the other hand, may be slaughtered if they are: (i) over 14 years of age, or (ii) permanently incapacitated due to accidental injury or deformity. Inter-state and intra-state transport of cattle is allowed only for agricultural or animal husbandry purposes. This requires a permit from the competent authority (to be appointed by the state government). Further, the Bill allows the sale of beef and beef products only at certain locations as permitted by the competent authority. No permission for such sale will be granted in areas that are predominantly inhabited by Hindu, Jain, Sikh and other non-beef eating communities, or within a five-kilometre radius of a temple or other Hindu religious institution.
Provisions of the Bill may raise certain issues which we discuss below.
Undue restriction on cattle transport in the north-eastern region of India
The Bill prohibits the transport of cattle from one state to another (or another country) through Assam, except with a permit that such transport is for agricultural or animal husbandry purposes. This may lead to difficulties in movement of cattle to the entire north-eastern region of India. First, the unique geographical location of Assam makes it an unavoidable transit state when moving goods to other north-eastern states. Second, it is unclear why Assam may disallow transit through it for any purposes other than agriculture or animal husbandry that are allowed in the origin and destination states. Note that the Madhya Pradesh Govansh Vadh Pratishedh Adhiniyam, 2004 provides for a separate permit called a transit permit for transporting cattle through the state. Such permit is for the act of transport, without any conditions as to the purpose of transport.
Unrestricted outward transport of cattle to states that regulate slaughter differently from Assam
The Bill restricts the transport of cattle from Assam to any place outside Assam “where slaughter of cattle is not regulated by law”. This implies that cattle may be transported without any restrictions to places outside Assam where cattle slaughter is regulated by law. It is unclear whether this seeks to cover any kind of regulation of cattle slaughter, or only regulation that is similar to the regulation under this Bill. The rationale for restricting inter-state transport may be to pre-empt the possibility of cattle protected under the Bill being taken to other states for slaughter. If that is the intention, it is not clear why the Bill exempts states with any regulation for cattle slaughter from transport restrictions. Other states may not have similar restrictions on cattle slaughter as in the Bill. Note that other states such as Karnataka and Chhattisgarh restrict outgoing cattle transport without making any distinction between states that regulate cattle slaughter and those that do not.
Effective prohibition on sale of beef in Assam
The Bill prohibits the sale of beef within a five-kilometre radius of a temple (which means an area of about 78.5 square kilometres around a temple). This threshold may be overly restrictive. As per the 2011 census, the average town area in Assam is 5.89 square kilometres (sq km) and the average village area is 1.93 sq km. The three largest towns of Assam by area are: (i) Guwahati (219.1 sq km), (ii) Jorhat (53.5 sq km), and (iii) Dibrugarh (20.8 sq km). Hence, even if there is only one temple in the middle of a town, no town in Assam – except Guwahati – can have a beef shop within the town area. Similarly, if a village has even one temple, a beef shop cannot be set up in a large area encompassing several adjoining villages as well. In this manner, the Bill may end up completely prohibiting sale of beef in the entire state, instead of restricting it to certain places.
Note that certain states such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana completely prohibit the sale or purchase of beef within the state. However, they also completely prohibit the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks. This is not the case under the Bill, which only places a complete prohibition on slaughter of cows. Further, in places such as Delhi, municipal regulations prohibit the sale of meat (including beef) within 150 metres from a temple or other religious place. This minimum distance requirement does not apply at the time of renewal of license for selling meat if the religious place comes into existence after the grant of such license.
The prohibition on sale of beef in areas predominantly inhabited by communities identified based on religion or food habits (non-beef eating) may also have an unintended consequence. With the food typically consumed by a community becoming unavailable or available only in select locations, it may lead to the segregation of different communities into demarcated residential areas. As per the 2011 census, the population of Assam comprises roughly 61% Hindus, 34% Muslims, and 4% Christians.
Onerous requirement for the accused to pay maintenance cost of seized cattle
Cattle rearing is essentially an economic activity. Under the Bill, cattle may be seized by a police officer on the basis of suspicion that an offence has been or may be committed. Seized cattle may be handed over to a care institution, and the cost of its maintenance during trial will be recovered from such persons as prescribed by the state government through rules. Note that there is no time frame for completing a trial under the Bill. Thus, if the owner or transporter of seized cattle is made liable to pay its maintenance cost, they may be deprived of their source of livelihood for an indefinite period while at the same time incurring a cost.
Cattle preservation laws in other states
The Directive Principles of State Policy under the Constitution call upon the state to prohibit the slaughter of cows, calves, and other milch and draught cattle. Currently, more than 20 states have laws restricting the slaughter of cattle (cows, bulls, and bullocks) and buffaloes to various degrees. Table 1 below shows a comparison of such laws in select states of India. Notably, north-eastern states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland do not have any law regulating cattle slaughter.