The Maharashtra government's top lawyer came up with a stunning answer on Friday when the Bombay high court asked him to explain why the ban on meat during the Jain festival days was not extended to fish or eggs.
"When you are talking of Ahimsa, how come fish, sea food and eggs are not banned?" the judge asked him
Advocate general Anil Singh replied, "Fish die the moment they are out of water. So there is no slaughter involved. The sentiment of ahimsa is that, there should be no slaughter."
Hours later, the state government informed the high court that the ban on slaughter and sale of meat in Mumbai, initially planned for four days, had been reduced to two days amid wrangling over the move taken in view of the Jain fasting period 'Paryushan'.
Earlier during the hearing, HC used particularly strong words to criticise the state's decision to impose ban on sale of meat in a cosmopolitan and progressive city like Mumbai.
"These are regressive steps. We understand the sentiment part. But purchase is an independent choice. A ban for a day or so is still understandable but for anything beyond that, the state can only make appeals for self-imposition and leave it at that," HC said.
"It appears that all these years you only banned slaughter not sale. How can you take this decision at the 11th hour?" HC asked.
The bench also pointed out that it was important to change the state's attitude in view of globalisation. "Trade and business cannot be hampered like this," the division bench headed by justice Anoop Mohta and justice SS Sayed added.
However, the advocate general replied that the state could let trade take precedence over "heritage and culture."
Singh also argued that the state has the power to come up with policy decisions that it thinks reasonable and the same does not warranty such outrage. He added that the municipal bodies in the state had their own statutory powers and hence, BMC had imposed an additional two days of ban while the Mira-Bhayandar municipal corporation had initially announced a ban for eight days.
The HC, however, said that the state must take a stand and impose restrictions on municipal bodies if they apply their powers unreasonably.
The division bench is likely to pass an order on whether the state and the municipal corporations can impose such blanket bans for "considerable" number of days.
This follows a submission made during the hearing on a plea filed by the meat traders' association of Mumbai challenging the four days ban imposed on sale of meat in Mumbai and across Maharashtra imposed by BMC and the state respectively. The petitioners said that they will contest the ban on sale of meat on September 17, which is still applicable as per government directions.
Members of the Jain community will observe a religious fast for eight days from Friday. Officials said they demanded the ban as their religion prescribes non-violence to all living beings.
The ban in Mumbai was planned for four non-consecutive days between September 11 and September 18. It covered the slaughter of buffaloes, goats and hogs, but excluded fish and poultry.