The trust vote drama in Karnataka has hit the national headlines. The incumbent chief minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa appears to have won the first round. It remains to be seen how the BJP responds to the governor’s direction that a second trust vote be held by the 14th of this month. In the 225-member Karnataka assembly, the ruling BJP had a wafer-thin majority since the 2008 assembly elections. And it was not surprising to find that some political forces in the state felt that there was an opportunity to unseat the government. But what has transpired over the past few days has once again reminded citizens of the ugly side of politics. Leading up to the trust vote, the governor of Karnataka wrote a letter to the speaker of the Karnataka assembly asking that no MLAs be disqualified before the trust vote was conducted on the floor of the assembly. Subsequently, there have been a number of allegations about the conduct of the trust vote itself. The governor openly called the trust vote “farcical”, and wrote to the Centre asking that President’s Rule be imposed in the state, before he directed the government to prove its majority again. This phenomenon of trust votes is not uncommon in our dynamic political culture. Just before the 2009 general elections, the BJD and the BJP had differences over seat-sharing in Orissa. The BJP decided to withdraw support to the Naveen Patnaik government. The BJD passed the floor test by a voice vote. While the opposition claims that the process was not fair, the BJD leadership has maintained that there was no request for a division, which would have required recorded voting. The relatively small Goa assembly has seen a number of similar occurrences in the recent past, with governments changing as a result. But there are some critical issues that merit examination. In some recent trust votes, there have been allegations that large amounts of money have been exchanged. Of course, following the 2008 trust vote in the Lok Sabha on the India-US nuclear agreement, the infamous cash-for-votes scam broke out, with wads of cash being shown on the floor of the House. In the Karnataka trust vote, too, there have been allegations that large amounts of money have changed hands. The second issue is how some of these trust votes are managed on the floor of the House. Both the recent Orissa episode and the ongoing Karnataka one have been very contentious about the procedure that has been used to prove the majority. In both cases, the opposition alleged that they asked for a division, which would require a physical count of votes rather than just a voice vote, and in both cases a division was not held. A parallel issue which needs to be kept in mind is the governor’s power to ensure compliance with procedure in the state legislatures. The third issue that needs some discussion is whether the decision on defections should be judged by the speaker, usually a member of the ruling party or coalition, or by a neutral external body, such as the Election Commission. In the latest episode in Karnataka, the speaker has disqualified MLAs on the ground that they have voluntarily exited the party under which they were elected. In a 1994 case (Ravi S. Naik v. Union of India), the Supreme Court ruled that the words “voluntarily giving up membership” have a wider meaning. An inference can also be drawn from the conduct of the member that he has voluntarily given up the membership of his party. There is a huge paradox in the anti-defection law that was passed 25 years ago. While MLAs and MPs vote along party lines on ordinary legislation, they do not appear to be daunted by the consequences in the case of trust votes. So, in effect, the anti-defection law appears to be effective in controlling members of all parties on policy-making — which could in fact benefit from more open input from across party lines — but ineffective in several cases with regard to trust votes. Clearly, there is much more at stake for all concerned in trust votes, and therefore the scope for greater negotiation. Politics in our large and complex democracy is fiercely competitive. Dissidence is to be expected because there are too many people vying for too few of the top positions. While there are no perfect solutions, the only sustainable and meaningful approach is to encourage inner-party democracy so as to enable a selection process for positions of responsibility that is accepted as free and fair by all concerned. While the political uncertainty continues, the only certainty for India’s citizens is a very unhealthy politics for some time to come. - CV Madhukar This article was published in Indian Express on October 13, 2010

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 GujaratRajasthanUttar 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.