Mr. Gopal Rai
Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi
Subject: Memorandum regarding review of the Delhi Agricultural Cattle Preservation Act, 1994 (Delhi Act No. 7 of 1994)
We have been directed by the OSD to Deputy Chief Minister to meet you regarding review of the Delhi Agricultural Cattle Preservation Act, 1994. Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) is a Delhi based civil liberties organisation working since 1977. We are writing in the context of the recent incidents of killings and harassment that have taken place in country and also in Delhi in the name of ‘beef ban’. On 26th October 2015, the Delhi police raided the Kerala House canteen on the apprehension that cow meat was being served. A number of people have been killed across the country in the past few months on the basis of mere apprehension (for instance, Dadri, Udhampur, Mainpuri, Nahan). These incidents have brought home the urgent need to revisit the laws that govern 'beef ban' in Delhi.
In Delhi, the legislation which governs the issue is Delhi Agricultural Cattle Preservation Act, 1994 (Delhi Act No. 7 of 1994) hereinafter referred to as “The Act”. The Act is to be read along with the Delhi Agricultural Cattle Preservation Rules, 1996. The Act which was passed by the BJP Government in Delhi essentially prohibits:
1. The slaughter of 'agricultural cattle' ie cows of all ages, calves of cows of all ages, bulls and bullocks (s.4 and s.2 (a)). Buffaloes are excluded from this category.
2. Transport/export of; and sale, purchase, disposal of agricultural cattle for slaughter (s.5 & 7).
3. The possession of flesh of any slaughtered agricultural cattle (s.8), including of those slaughtered outside Delhi (s.9).
Notably, in banning sale and possession of beef, including that of animals slaughtered in another state, the Act effectively prohibits and criminalises consumption as well.
In the context of the situation in Delhi, following aspects of the Act require immediate attention and action:
1.Unconstitutional ban on Possession and Consumption: The Act prohibits the possession of flesh of animals slaughtered in contravention of the provisions of the Act (s.8 and 9). Effectively, it leads to a ban on the consumption of the same. A ban on possession and consumption (along with imposition of criminal penalties) is not supported by Art.48 of the Directive Principles of State Policy at all. The Kerala house raid instance shows us the consequences of such an unconstitutional ban where people who were routinely having food were harassed, as was the canteen management, for no fault of theirs. The Delhi incident is a warning of the extremely dangerous potential of this law. Thus the ban on possession and in effect consumption needs to be immediately lifted.
2.Incommensurately Harsh Punishment and Burden of Proof: The Act provides for a punishment of five years for engaging in slaughter, transport, export, sale, purchase, or disposal. Even for possession of flesh, the Act provides for a minimum of one year punishment. Additionally, the Act makes the offences cognisable and non-bailable, and places the burden of proof on the accused to prove his/her innocence. It is a basic civil liberties guarantee, protected by the Indian Constitution, that the State bears the burden of proving the culpability of the accused, beyond reasonable doubt. In its current shape, the Act is draconian in its provisions and patently unconstitutional.
3.Cause of Harassment at the hands of Administrative agencies and Non-State Actors: The Act provides for draconian powers to the police, competent authority and veterinary officers. Specifically, section 11 provides for powers to enter a premise, stop vehicles, and conduct search and seizure. To add to this, right wing Hindutva organisations in the garb of attempting to 'preserve agricultural cattle', engage in vigilantism which undermines the rule of law, cause illegal harassment and persecution of individuals and establishments. The provisions of the Act regarding possession open it up to the kind of misuse by vested interests that we witnessed in the Kerala House canteen raid case where Vishnu Gupta, chief of Hindu Sena made a PCR call on the basis of which the police conducted a raid in the canteen. There are a number of Gau Raksha Dals functioning in Delhi spreading rumours and thus inciting tensions.
It is in the light of the above, and given that the state government has the powers to do so under Item 14 & 15, List II, Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India, PUDR demands the following:
1. Removal of ban on possession, consumption and transport, through repeal/amendment of the Act.
2. Treat violations under the Act as civil wrongs, inviting proportionate penalties, instead of criminal offences, with powers of imprisonment, search/seizure and denial of life and liberty.
In a context where there is ever growing hatred towards members of particular communities, where food choices have come under attack, where livelihoods are being destroyed in the name of protecting ‘Hinduism’, we urge you to consider the above demands and to review the draconian Delhi Agricultural Cattle Preservation Act, 1994.