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The Meghalaya Assembly on Monday passed a resolution demanding "immediate withdrawal" of the Centre's notification banning sale and purchase of cattle from animal markets for slaughter, calling the measure an "infringement" of the rights of states.
The development came four days after a similar resolution received bipartisan support in Kerala Assembly where bitter political rivals — the ruling LDF and opposition UDF — closed ranks to denounce the ban as a "fascist" move.
The members of the Meghalaya Assembly supported in one voice the resolution tabled by Chief Minister Mukul Sangma and passed it unanimously.
"This House takes a strong note of the shortcomings and infirmities in these Rules (Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Regulation of Livestock Markets Rules, 2017), as notified and resolves that the same may be withdrawn by Government of India with an immediate effect, so as to maintain the federal and secular character of our Constitution...," the resolution read.
The notification, it said, "travels way beyond the scope and object as set out in the Preamble of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, thus infringing the rights of the states to regulate the items enlisted in the State List (List-II of VII Schedule to the Constitution of India)".
Sangma, introducing the resolution, alleged that the notification was "designed to affect" the people of the northeast in general and Meghalaya in particular.
It suffered from "serious shortcomings and infirmities" and could have an "adverse impact on the economy and culture" of the state of Meghalaya, he added.
The chief minister said beef was an "integral part" of the dietary habit of the tribals of Meghalaya and its demand in the state in 2015-2016 was 23,634 metric tonnes. Beef production in the state was only 12,834 MT and 10,800 MT was purchased from outside, he added.
The Kerala Assembly, which had convened for a day on June 8 to exclusively discuss the controversial ban, had condemned the measure as not only an "intrusion" in the rights of states but also an"infringement" of the rights of people about their food habits.
The lone BJP MLA O Rajagopal opposed the resolution.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had called the notification a plan to implement the "political agenda of the Sangh family" and an attempt at "dividing people through communal polarisation for political gains."
Cow slaughter and beef consumption are legal in both Meghalaya and Kerala where the Congress and the Left parties are in power respectively.
The prohibition on the sale and purchase of cattle at animal markets for the purpose of slaughter would affect the livelihood of over 5.7 lakh (79%) households, which were currently involved in cattle-rearing, Sangma added.
"It will also affect the right of the people to have food of their own choice and celebrate the religious, cultural and social ceremonies in practice since time immemorial," the Meghalaya chief minister said.
Referring to the India Health Report on Nutrition 2015, which surveyed under-nutrition in children (the national average is 38.7%), the chief minister said, "The prevalence of stunting in children under five years of age is rampant in Meghalaya at 42.9 per cent."
Referring to rule 8 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017, which prohibited the functioning of an animal market within 25 kms of a state border or 50 kms of an international border, the chief minister said Meghalaya shared a 443 km-long border with Bangladesh and an over 800 km-long interstate border with Assam.
"This will result in large-scale disruption of the economy, including livelihoods at the border areas, since Rule 2(e) specifically defines cattle to include bovine animals, bulls, bullocks, cows, buffaloes, steers, heifers and camels," he added.
Referring to Rule 22, which placed restrictions on the sale and purchase of cattle and prohibited bringing them to animal markets for slaughter, Sangma said it was a "major embargo crippling the economy of a predominantly tribal society" with an over 85 per cent indigenous population.
The BJP had suffered a setback in Meghalaya earlier this month when a senior party leader, who had said he would host a beef party in his hometown to celebrate Prime Minister Narendra Modi's three years in office, resigned.
BJP district president for Garo Hills Bernard Rimpu Marak quit to protest the party's "stand on beef" and in keeping with "the interest of the Garo people". Some other leaders had followed suit.
Assembly elections are due in Meghalaya early next year.