New Delhi, Aug. 11: A poll-powered cabinet today cleared a ban on cow slaughter, set up with rare alacrity a committee on reservation for the poor among upper castes and decided to confer statehood on Delhi.
It also approved amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code to prevent witnesses from turning hostile in criminal cases, a proposal that was in the works but comes close on the heels of the celebrated Best Bakery trial in Gujarat.
All three bills — slaughter ban, Delhi statehood and CrPC amendments — will be moved in this session.
With elections in five states slated for November and feverish speculation over the timing of Lok Sabha polls, the cabinet acted on the Prime Minister’s promise yesterday in Jaipur and formed a committee under deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani to consider a reservation on economic considerations.
The decision is intended to take the wind of the Congress government’s sails in Rajasthan, an election-bound state where chief minister Ashok Gehlot has turned this into a major issue.
So it is with the conferring of statehood on Delhi, which has been coming but is announced before the poll.
The cow slaughter ban has been on the BJP’s agenda for long and associates of the Sangh parivar revived the demand lately, leading to the cabinet decision.
Digvijay Singh, the Congress chief minister of Madhya Pradesh — also going to the polls — threatened to hijack the issue by trying to be more Sangh than the Sangh and even making the cow the state animal.
At the moment, a state government is free to clamp a ban but there is no uniform national legislation, which will now be enacted.
Except Bengal, Kerala, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Lakshadweep, all others have a legislation in place. The Centre argues that these laws are not enforced strictly and have loopholes. Some state laws allow old cows to be slaughtered but the provision is misused and often results in the young and healthy being butchered.
Cow slaughter is a state subject and for the Centre to enact a legislation it is essential for at least two states to adopt resolutions authorising it to do so.
Parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said two state governments had written to the Centre but did not identify them.
Swaraj explained that the central law would be binding on states. The draft bill presented to the cabinet by the agriculture ministry this morning is to be brought under the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution (List III — Concurrent List) within the purview of the section dealing with prevention of cruelty to animals.
The draft bill also bans export of beef — cow, and not buffalo, meat. In any case, the bill does not talk about banning buffalo slaughter.
No party is going to oppose the ban, but statehood for Delhi has already stirred up controversy with Congress chief minister Sheila Dikshit saying that the bill had several “grey areas”, was “ambiguous” and “not understandable”.
While announcing the decisions, Swaraj had refused to disclose details, citing the Parliament session, and only said that “police and public order” would remain with the Centre.
Dikshit told PTI that if this were so, the concept of full statehood would be “totally negated”. She complained that “we were neither informed nor consulted about the bill”.
Delhi BJP president Madan Lal Khurana termed it a “historic decision”.
Having voiced the demand itself, the Congress would not be in a position to oppose economic quotas. Atal Bihari Vajpayee said in Jaipur that his government was willing to bring in a constitutional amendment if the Congress supported the move. The BJP today called for 10 per cent reservation under this criterion.
The group of ministers headed by Advani will have Jaswant Singh, Arun Jaitley, Nitish Kumar and Satyanarain Jatiya, the social justice minister, as members.