Cow slaughter is illegal and the offender is liable for prosecution even if there is no proof that the house where it took place was not owned or not in possession of the accused, the Supreme Court has ruled.
A bench of justices A K Ganguly and J S Khehar passed the ruling quashing a Punjab & Haryana high court judgement which took a contrary view that in the absence of evidence of the offender's ownership of the premises, no illegality was made out.
Interpreting the provisions of the Punjab Prohibition of Cow Slaughter Act, 1955, the apex court said, "The said Act, which has been enacted to give effect to the provisions of Article 48 of Directive Principle of State Policy and which is still in force, prohibits cow slaughter
"If we read Section 3 and Section 4 together, it is clear that the person contravening Section 3 cannot put up a defence that the act of slaughter was being done in a place, of which he is not the owner or in respect of which he does not have the conscious possession.
"Slaughter of cows, subject to exceptions under Section 4, in any place, is prohibited under Section 3 and penalty for doing so is provided under Section 8."
The Act permits only slaughter of infirm animals with prior permission of the authorities and certificate from a veterinary surgeon on the health of the diseased cow.
In this case, Rajmal and another person were convicted and sentenced to one year imprisonment by a magistrate court for their involvement in illegal slaughter of cows.
The sessions court upheld the punishment, but the high court acquitted the offenders on the ground that police failed to prove that the house used for the offence was owned by the accused. Aggrieved, the State appealed in the apex court.
Police had recovered 70 kg of fresh beef, one cow hide, one axe, two blood stained daggers and four weak and infirm cows at the time of the incident in Ferozepur on January 1, 1996.
The apex court said the high court while setting aside the concurrent findings of the two lower courts had taken a erroneous view that ownership of the house or the conscious possession of the house is a valid requisite before an accused could be held guilty under Section 8 of the said Act.
"The high court's finding that the guilt of the accused persons has not been proved in the absence of proof of their ownership or conscious possession of the house where slaughter took place, is a finding which is de-hors the said Act and is clearly not legally sustainable.
"Slaughter of the cows is clearly prohibited under Section 3, subject to the exceptions in Section 4. The case of the accused persons is not covered under the exceptions in Section 4. No such defence was ever taken.
"Therefore the impugned order of the High Court is, with respect, legally not sustainable. We therefore are unable to accept the reasons of the high court. The appeal is allowed. The order of the high court is set-aside and that of the learned sessions judge is affirmed," justice Ganguly, writing the judgement, said.