The Bombay high court (HC) on Friday decided to club all the PILs challenging a recent Maharashtra law banning beef consumption, its possession or transportation even when slaughtered outside the state.
The petitions would be jointly heard on August 19 when the matter has been kept for directions by a bench headed by justice VM Kanade.
Early March, after President Pranab Mukherjee granted assent to Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, 2015, the beef ban was enforced in the state, including on sale or possession of beef, with stringent penalties.
The slaughter of cows was already prohibited in the state under Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976. The new Act also bans slaughter of bulls and bullocks, previously permitted on a fit-for-slaughter certificate.
Three PILs challenging the Act's Section 5(d) and 9(a), which prohibit possession, transportation and consumption, contended that this even bans transportation of beef from other states and sought an injunction on these sections.
One of the petitioners, Mutton Butchers Union Sarvashramik Sangh secretary Vijay Dalvi, has pleaded that they were opposed to the ban as it affects not just consumers but also farmers, traders, the leather industry and many other stakeholders.
The high court had also directed the state not to initiate any coercive action against traders found possessing or transporting beef till the pendency of the petition, or for three months, whichever is earlier, though FIRs can be lodged.
Taking a lenient view, the judges had earlier observed that the Act was introduced suddenly and the traders did not have reasonable time to dispose of their stocks. The court also urged the state not to intrude into citizens' privacy if they were found in possession of beef in any form but declined a blanket ban on the provisions of the new Act.
Counsel for one of the petitioners, Aspi Chinoy, had argued that such a ban on consumption of beef violated the fundamental right of a person to have food of his choice.
However, the then advocate-general of Maharashtra Sunil Manohar was of the view that consumption of beef is not a fundamental right and that the state could regulate a person's fundamental right to have his choice of food.
Beef traders have contended that the move to ban beef in the state will render thousands of people in the trade unemployed and also hike the prices of other non-vegetarian products like mutton, chicken and fish.