|This month, PRS Legislative Research is 5 years old! The objective when we started out was to make the legislative process in India better informed, more transparent and participatory. From what started off as an idea, we believe we have made some progress towards our objective. - About 250 MPs across political parties have reached out to PRS for inputs on a range of issues that have come up in Parliament. In addition, there are a number of MPs who use PRS material for their preparation in Parliament, even though they have not contacted PRS for further inputs. - PRS has increasingly become a resource for the media as well. Over the past year, PRS has been cited on nearly 400 occasions by leading newspapers and websites as the source of information about legislation and Parliament. These are some of the milestones that we feel happy to have reached. But I want to really share are some of the learnings that we have had over these years. The first thing that we have learned is that many of us carry so many wrong perceptions about our MPs. Most of us don’t know that more than 80 percent of our MPs have college degrees. Most of us don’t know that the average attendance rate in Parliament is close to 80 percent in the past year. Most of us don’t know that Parliament has worked for more than 90 percent of the scheduled time in recent sessions, despite the undesirable disruptions in Parliament. There is a lot that is wrong with our politics, but we hope that some of these facts throw light about some lesser known aspects about our MPs. Laws are made for the really long term! That seems obvious, when we see examples such as our Indian Penal Code which was made in 1860, and the Land Acquisition Act that has haunted our country in recent years was passed in 1894. And these are just some examples. The fact is that if we do not debate our laws when they are being made, and citizens do not engage and provide inputs to this process, then we will be stuck with any issues that these laws might have for the next 100 years or more. So it is critical to get the laws as close to ‘right’ as possible when they are being passed. It is not obvious to most people that so many MPs put in significant effort to engage effectively in Parliament. Clearly, there is a selection bias, statistically speaking – I am talking of MPs who have reached out to us. Despite this selection bias, the point is that there are a number of MPs who take their work in Parliament seriously, even though they know that much of the work they do in Parliament has almost no bearing on their re-election prospects. (By the way, in most informal polls that I have done when I meet with groups of people, most do not know the role of an MP – even amongst some of the well educated groups.) Why do so many MPs still work hard to prepare for their work in Parliament, despite knowing that this work has no bearing on their re-election prospects? On this, we can only hypothesize. There are many MPs who understand their role as legislators and take it very seriously. There are MPs who feel that making a good point on an issue on the floor of Parliament is a way to establish their grasp of a certain issue to their colleagues in Parliament, but also to the larger world. For some others, it is a signalling device to their party colleagues about their interest and expertise in a certain subject area. And we have had MPs who have said, that they feel very good when other MPs, especially from other parties, compliment them for making a good point. All of these sound like good positive reasons for many MPs to want to be well prepared to speak in Parliament. We have begun to appreciate that the role of the MP in Parliament is very challenging. I can point to at least three reasons, which are independent of how educated or capable an MP might be: (a) The range of subjects in Parliament is so wide that no individual, however intelligent, can be fully conversant with all the subjects being discussed. (b) MPs have no research staff whatsoever, and are expected to do all of their preparatory work on their own, and (c) The constituency pressure on the MPs is often very high, making it difficult for them to pay adequate attention to their work in Parliament. We most certainly want more from our MPs and our Parliament. We want our MPs to meet for more days, find better ways to raise issues in Parliament than to disrupt proceedings, debate in more detail the laws that they pass. But what we have learned is that we cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. So, I am not suggesting that we can’t do better or that our MPs or our Parliament are perfect. The only way we will have a better Parliament is if we engage. And more people engage – from all walks of life. Policy making is not the exclusive preserve of either the expert or the policy maker. The policy process can be greatly strengthened if we participate in the process and ensure that our MPs know that we want effective laws to govern us and our children. Parliament can be made more effective by addressing some of the current bottlenecks. And some of these issues are not even difficult to fix. For example, can we have more people in the committee staff to support the work of the standing committees in Parliament so they can cover more ground in any given year? Can we have qualified research staff working for MPs so that they can go better prepared for Parliament? (Our Legislative Assistants to MPs – LAMPs programme has shown that it is hugely rewarding for young legislative assistants and the MPs if such a platform is created.) Can we have recorded voting on all legislative votes, instead of voice votes – the electronic button system is already in place to do this! These are just some examples… and we at PRS have a laundry list of ideas for strengthening Parliament – with varying degrees of difficulty. We have raised some of these issues in our Annual Conference of Effective Legislatures, and will continue to do so in the years ahead. A very BIG thanks to each of you for making PRS possible over these past five years… We hope that you will continue to bless and support us in the years ahead to help shape a more robust policy making process in India.||PRS PRODUCTS The Legislative Briefs are our flagship product. Each Brief analyses one Bill pending in Parliament. These are no longer than 6 pages and are sent to all MPs. We then get calls from MPs asking for more information/ clarification. Since earlier this year PRS has begun a Wednesday morning Policy Dialogue series exclusively for MPs. These are widely attended by MPs across parties. PRS is the knowledge partner to brief MPs in the Thursday morning Bill briefing sessions organised by the Constitution Club. PRS has reached out to about 1000 journalists across the country, through journalist workshops and direct engagement. PRS has started the Legislative Assistants to MPs (LAMPs) programme as a pilot initiative. Under the programme, participating MPs get a trained legislative assistant for a period of three Parliament sessions. PRS produces Primers to demystify Parliamentary process for citizens. These are widely used in our interactions with civil society groups. The Vital Stats series is a crisp two page document that often highlights interesting aspects of Parliament. They are very popular with journalists. PRS has nearly 1000 fans on Facebook and 2000 followers on Twitter, including some MPs. PRS has a Session Alert at the beginning of each session of Parliament. On the last day of each session, PRS releases two reports on the just concluded session: Parliament Session Wrap and Plan vs. Performance. PRS hosts an Annual Conference of Effective Legislatures each year to highlight certain aspects of the functioning of Parliament. PRS has compiled a free online database of all state laws across the country. This effort www.lawsofindia.org is the first effort of its kind in India. The PRS website www.prsindia.org has become an important resource for anyone tracking the Indian Parliament both within the country and abroad.|
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.