Read what Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said in 2017 on beef ban

Assam Bill to regulate cattle trade, transport and slaughter has caused Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh to apprehend supply bottlenecks and they are reminding the Assam CM of his earlier stand

Read what Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma  said in 2017 on beef ban

Rajan Kalita

Barely four years ago Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was singing a different tune.

In an interview to the Press Trust of India in 2017, the then convenor of the BJP-led North-East Democratic Alliance Biswa Sarma had voiced outrage at the suggestion that BJP wanted to ban beef in the NE.

“We are in power in Assam and people are eating beef there in day-to-day life. Where is the ban? There is no intention of the state government to impose any restriction. We have not done so in Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur and we are in government in both states as well,” he had said.

“Some people have made it look like that the only issue in the Northeast is beef. It has been portrayed as if people here eat beef from morning to night and there is no other thing. People are asking for roads, rail, jobs... The beef issue has been blown out of proportion,” he told PTI.

Fast forward to July, 2021 and Biswa Sarma, now the chief minister, has introduced a Bill in the Assembly to regulate cattle trade, banning sale and slaughter wherever certain non-beef eaters are in a majority and within five kilometres of temples and Satras (monasteries). The ostensible purpose is to stop cattle smuggling to Bangladesh.

But while Biswa Sarma, who famously had said during the election that Muslims in any case did not vote for the BJP and hence the party was under no obligation to humour them, put an end to state support to Madrasas after coming to power, his cattle trade Bill has given rise to considerable disquiet.

Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma has voiced apprehension that the Assam Bill would affect livelihood as well as eating habits in the state. A large number of people in the state were engaged in cattle trade and transported cattle through Assam. Requirements of registration, fees, certificates etc. have already led to shortage of beef in the state, Meghalaya Government has stated. What is not stated is the undercurrent of resentment at local officials in Assam exploiting the traders, most of them are migrants, and making it difficult for them to trade.

In Arunachal Pradesh also there is consternation and people have spoken up against the Assam Bill. Assam Congress leader Gaurav Gogoi said there was no need for the new Bill and amendments in the existing law could have served the purpose.

Tribals in the North-East, there are hundreds of them, have been slowly taking to rearing cattle and have been acquiring the habit of drinking milk, which they never did before. So while state support is needed to help cattle breeders and traders alike, the present Bill is said to be directed at one community.

There is also apprehension that with temples coming up at the drop of a hat, the trade would gradually disappear.

In Assam and in the rest of the North-East, beef, pork, lamb and chicken were often sold at the same marketplace without any restriction. Cattle trade from the bordering areas of Assam to other states was also seamless. But the new law threatens to criminalise the trade and the movement of cattle.

Much of the beef, pork, vegetables and other produce are supplied to North-Eastern states through Assam. And while the threat of imprisonment for three years and fines ranging up to Rupees five lakhs could deter some, the harassment and the possibility of violence would deter others.

However, the chief minister has been liberal enough to allow online sale of liquor and home delivery on a trial basis.

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