The Bombay high court ruled on Friday that it will no longer be illegal to consume or keep imported beef but upheld the Maharashtra government’s ban on slaughter of cows and bullocks in the state.
A division bench of justice Abhay Oka and justice SC Gupte struck down two provisions of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976, which prohibit the import of beef and criminalise its possession, saying they violate the right to privacy and the right to choice of food that is guaranteed under Article 21 of Constitution.
Last year, the Maharashtra government enforced a complete ban on beef and made the sale or consumption of the meat punishable by a five-year jail term and Rs. 10,000 fine, sparking a raging debate over the right to choice.
A number of petitions were filed in the high court challenging the constitutional validity of various provisions of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976, which were introduced by an amendment, but brought into force 20 years later in March 2015.
The original 1976 act banned slaughter of cows, but the amendment also prohibited slaughter of bulls and bullocks and possession and consumption of their meat.
“There is no reason for the state of Maharashtra to be worried as to whether there are enough cows, bulls and bullocks in Ireland or for that matter some other country or some other state in India,” senior advocate Aspi Chinoy, who represented one of the petitioners, said.
The senior advocate had also pointed out that there was a ban on the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks in several other states, but there was no ban on import of beef from other states or other countries. He said section 5(d) curtails the fundamental right of choice of food of citizens, covered under the right to liberty guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
He said reasonable restrictions can be imposed on fundamental rights, but such restrictions must be justified on the ground of some compelling public interest.
The state government, on the other hand, contended that the amendment has not been enacted to harass beef eaters, but to prohibit slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks in the larger interest of the agrarian society.
“Let’s not look at the act as something done to harass people,” advocate general Shrihari Aney said.