Earlier today, the Supreme Court struck down the two Acts that created an independent body for the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary. One of the Acts amended the Constitution to replace the method of appointment of judges by a collegium system with that of an independent commission, called the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC). The composition of the NJAC would include: (i) the Chief Justice of India (Chairperson) (ii) two other senior most judges of the Supreme Court, (iii) the Union Law Minister, and (iv) two eminent persons to be nominated by the Prime Minister, the CJI and the Leader of Opposition of the Lok Sabha. The other Act laid down the processes in relation to such appointments. Both Acts were passed by Parliament in August 2014, and received Presidential assent in December 2014. Following this, a batch of petitions that had been filed in Supreme Court challenging the two Bills on grounds of unconstitutionality, was referred to a five judge bench. It was contended that the presence of executive members in the NJAC violated the independence of the judiciary. In its judgement today, the Court held that the executive involvement in appointment of judges impinges upon the independence of the judiciary. This violates the principle of separation of powers between the executive and judiciary, which is a basic feature of the Constitution. In this context, we examine the proposals around the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary. Appointment of judges before the introduction of the NJAC The method of appointment of the Chief Justice of India, SC and HC judges was laid down in the Constitution.[i] The Constitution stated that the President shall make these appointments after consulting with the Chief Justice of India and other SC and HC judges as he considers necessary. Between the years 1982-1999, the issue of method of appointment of judges was examined and reinterpreted by the Supreme Court. Since then, a collegium, consisting of the Chief Justice of India and 4 other senior most SC judges, made recommendations for persons to be appointed as SC and HC judges, to the President.[ii] Recommendations of various bodies for setting up an independent appointments commission Over the decades, several high level Commissions have examined this method of appointment of judges to the higher judiciary. They have suggested that an independent body be set up to make recommendations for such appointments. However, they differed in the representation of the judiciary, legislature and executive in making such appointments. These are summarised below. Table 1: Comparison of various recommendations on the composition of a proposed appointments body
|Recommendatory Body||Suggested composition|
|2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (2007)||Judiciary : CJI; [For HC judges: Chief Justice of the relevant High Court of that state] Executive : Vice-President (Chairperson), PM, Law Minister, [For HC judges: Includes CM of the state] Legislature: Speaker of Lok Sabha, Leaders of Opposition from both Houses of Parliament. Other: No representative.|
|National Advisory Council (2005)||Judiciary: CJI; [For HC judges: Chief Justice of the relevant High Court of that state] Executive: Vice-President (Chairman), PM (or nominee), Law Minister, [For HC judges: Includes CM of the state] Legislature: Speaker of Lok Sabha, Leader of Opposition from both Houses of Parliament. Other: No representative.|
|NCRWC (2002)||Judiciary :CJI (Chairman), two senior most SC judges Executive: Union Law Minister Legislature: No representative Other: one eminent person|
|Law Commission (1987)||Judiciary : CJI (Chairman), three senior most SC judges, immediate predecessor of the CJI, three senior most CJs of HCs, [For HC judges: Chief Justice of the relevant High Court of that state] Executive: Law Minister, Attorney General of India, [For HC judges: Includes CM of the state] Legislature: No representative Other: One Law academic|
Sources: 121st Report of the Law Commission, 1987; Report of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC), 2002; A Consultation Paper on Superior Judiciary, NCRWC, 2001; A National Judicial Commission-Report for discussion in the National Advisory Council, 2005; Fourth Report of the 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC), ‘Ethics in Governance’, 2007; PRS. It may be noted that the Law Commission, in its 2008 and 2009 reports, suggested that Government should seek a reconsideration of the judgments in the Three Judges cases. In the alternative, Parliament should pass a law restoring the primacy of the CJI, while ensuring that the executive played a role in making judicial appointments. Appointments process in different countries Internationally, there are varied methods for making appointments of judges to the higher judiciary. The method of appointment of judges to the highest court, in some jurisdictions, is outlined in Table 2. Table 2: Appointment of judges to the highest court in different jurisdictions
|Country||Method of Appointment to the highest court||Who is involved in making the appointments|
|UK||SC judges are appointed by a five-person selection commission.||It consists of the SC President, his deputy, and one member each appointed by the JACs of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.[iii] (The JACs comprise lay persons, members of the judiciary and the Bar and make appointments of judges of lower courts.)|
|Canada||Appointments are made by the Governor in Council.[iv]||A selection panel comprising five MPs (from the government and the opposition) reviews list of nominees and submits 3 names to the Prime Minister.[v]|
|USA||Appointments are made by the President.||Supreme Court Justices are nominated by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate.[vi]|
|Germany||Appointments are made by election.||Half the members of the Federal Constitutional Court are elected by the executive and half by the legislature.[vii]|
|France||Appointments are made by the President.||President receives proposals for appointments from Conseil Superieur de la Magistrature.[viii]|
Sources: Constitutional Reform Act, 2005; Canada Supreme Court Act, 1985; Constitution of the United States of America; Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany; Constitution of France; PRS. In delivering its judgment that strikes down the setting up of an NJAC, the Court has stated that it would schedule hearings from November 3, 2015 regarding ways in which the collegium system can be strengthened.
[i] Article 124, Constitution of India (Prior to 2015 Amendments)
[ii] S.P. Gupta vs. Union of India, AIR 1982, SC 149; S.C. Advocates on Record Association vs. Union of India, AIR 1994 SC 268; In re: Special Reference, AIR 1999 SC 1.
[iii]. Schedule 8, Constitutional Reform Act, 2005.
[iv]. Section 4(2), Supreme Court Act (RSC, 1985).
[v]. Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada on the retirement of Justice Morris Fish, http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/news/2013/04/23/statement-prime-minister-canada-retirement-justice-morris-fish.
[vi]. Article II, Section 2, The Constitution of the United States of America.
[vii]. Article 94 (1), Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany.
[viii] Article 65, Constitution of France, http://www.conseil-constitutionnel.fr/conseil-constitutionnel/root/bank_mm/anglais/constiution_anglais_oct2009.pdf.
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.