06 May, Mumbai
The Bombay High Court Friday upheld the ban on slaughter of bulls and bullocks in Maharashtra indicating that consumption of beef will remain banned across the state.
A division bench of Justices A S Oka and S C Gupte, however, struck down provisions that criminalised possession of beef of animals slaughtered outside the state.
Referring to these provisions as “unconstitutional”, the bench said only “conscious possession” of the meat of animals slaughtered in the state will be held as an offence. With today’s ruling, the burden of proving innocence will not be on individuals and the onus to prove that the law was violated lies on the prosecution.
In a 245-page strongly worded judgement, the High Court said the sections that criminalised possession of beef is an infringement on the right to privacy of citizens.
The court said the state cannot make an intrusion into a citizen’s home and prevent him from possessing and eating food of his choice. The bench added that citizens are required to be let alone especially when the food of their choice is not injurious to health.
The bench was hearing a bunch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Maharashtra Animals Preservation (Amendment) Act and in particular, possession and consumption of beef from animals slaughtered outside Maharashtra.
While the Act had banned slaughter of cows, way back in 1976, the recent amendments prohibited slaughter of bulls and bullocks, possession and consumption of their meat.
As per the Act, slaughter attracts a five-year jail term and Rs 10,000 fine while possession of meat of bull or bullocks attracts over one-year jail and Rs 2,000 fine.
Reacting to the verdict, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis expressed satisfaction that the High Court has affirmed the government’s stand that the law is constitutional and has not targeted any religion, caste or creed. However, on the provisions that were struck down; Mr. Fadnavis said that his government will consult legal experts and approach the Supreme Court, if necessary.