The Monsoon Session of Parliament begins tomorrow and will continue till August 10, 2018. It is scheduled to have 18 sittings during this period. This post outlines what is in store in the upcoming session.
The session has a packed legislative agenda. Presently, there are 68 Bills pending in Parliament. Of these, 25 have been listed for consideration and passage. In addition, 18 new Bills have been listed for introduction, consideration, and passage. This implies that Parliament has the task of discussing and deliberating 43 Bills listed for passage in an 18-day sitting period. Key among them include the Bills that are going to replace the six Ordinances currently in force. The government is going to prioritize the passage of these six Bills to ensure that the Ordinances do not lapse.
Besides the heavy legislative agenda, the session will also witness the election of a new Deputy Chairman for the Upper House. Former Deputy Chairman, P.J. Kurien’s term ended on July 1, 2018. The upcoming election has generated keen interest, and will be closely watched. The role of the Deputy Chairman is significant, as he quite frequently oversees the proceedings of the House. The Deputy Chairman is responsible for maintaining order in the house and ensuring its smooth functioning. The preceding Budget Session was the least productive since 2000 due to disruptions. Rajya Sabha spent only 2 hours and 31 minutes discussing legislative business, of which 3 minutes were spent on government Bills. In this context, the role of the Deputy Chairman is important in ensuring productivity of the house.
Another key player in ensuring productivity of Parliament is the Speaker of the Lower House. In Budget Session 2018, the Speaker was unable to admit a no confidence motion. This failure was based on her inability to bring the house in order. Repeated disruptions led to the passage of only two Bills in Lok Sabha. The same session also saw disruptions by certain MPs demanding special category status for Andhra Pradesh. Between the last session and the upcoming session, a key development includes the resignation of five YRSC members, reducing the strength of MPs from Andhra Pradesh to 20. In light of this, one has to wait to see whether the demand for special category status for Andhra Pradesh will be raised again.
Coming to the legislative agenda, of the six Bills that aim to replace Ordinances, key include: (i) the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018, (ii) the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2018, (iii) the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill, 2018, and (iv) the Commercial Courts (Amendment) Bill, 2018. The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill aims to confiscate the properties of people who have absconded the country in order to avoid facing prosecution for economic offences. The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018 was introduced in Lok Sabha in March 2018. Subsequently, an Ordinance was promulgated on April 21, 2018. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill increases the punishment for rape of women, and introduces death penalty for rape of minor girls below the age of 12. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy (Amendment) Bill aims to address existing challenges in the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. It amends the Code to include homebuyers as financial creditors in the insolvency resolution process.
There are some Bills that have been passed by one house but are pending in the other, and some that are pending in both the houses. These cut across various sectors, including social reform, education, health, consumer affairs, and transport. Some key reformative legislation currently pending include the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016, and the Triple Talaq Bill. The Triple Talaq Bill, passed on the day of introduction in Lok Sabha, is pending in Rajya Sabha. When introduced in Rajya Sabha, the opposition introduced a motion to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. In the forthcoming session, it remains to be seen whether the Bill will be sent to a Select Committee for detailed scrutiny or will be passed without reference to a Committee. Other pending legislation include the the National Medical Commission Bill, 2017, the RTE (Second Amendment) Bill, 2017, the Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 and the Specific Relief (Amendment) Bill, 2017.
Of the 18 new Bills listed for introduction, all have been listed for consideration and passage as well. These include the Trafficking of Persons Bill, 2018, the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, and amendments to the RTI Act. Since they have been listed for passage, it remains to be seen whether these Bills are scheduled to be scrutinized by a Parliamentary Committee. In the 16th Lok Sabha, only 28% of the Bills introduced in Lok Sabha have been referred to Committees. This number is low in comparison to 60% and 71% of the introduced Bills being referred to Committees in the 14th and 15th Lok Sabha, respectively. Committees ensure that Bills are closely examined. This facilitates informed deliberation on the Bill, and strengthens the legislative process.
Besides taking up the legislative agenda, an important function of Parliament is to discuss issues of national importance and hold the government accountable. In the previous session, the issue of irregularities in the banking sector was repeatedly listed for discussion. However, due to disruptions, it was not taken up. Budget Session 2018 saw the lowest number of non- legislative debates since the beginning of the 16th Lok Sabha. In the upcoming session, it is likely that members will raise various issues for discussion. It remains to be seen whether Parliament will function smoothly in order to power through its agenda, and fulfil its obligation to hold the government accountable.
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.