The Bombay High Court on Wednesday declined to suspend certain provisions of a recent Maharashtra law banning beef consumption, its possession or transportation even when slaughtered outside the state.
A division bench of Justice V.M. Kanade and Justice M.S. Sonak felt no suspension could be granted till the final hearing of a bunch of public interest litigations challenging the ban on beef in the state, and fixed the next hearing for June 25.
One of the petitioners, Mutton Butchers Union Sarvashramik Sangh secretary Vijay Dalvi, said they were opposed to the ban as it affects not just the consumers but also farmers, traders, the leather industry and many other stakeholders.
The court on Wednesday directed the Maharashtra government to file its detailed affidavit on the issue within four weeks and permitted the petitioners and intervenors to file their rejoinders later.
Early March, after President Pranab Mukherjee granted assent to the 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 the Maharashtra Animal Presevation Act, 1976. The new act now also bans slaughter of bulls and bullocks, previously permitted on a fit-for-slaughter certificate.
Three PILs challenging the azct'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).
The high court 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.
Adopting a lenient view, the judges 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 on 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 argued that such a ban on consumption of beef violated the fundamental right of a person to have food of his choice.
Advocate-General of Maharashtra Sunil Manohar countered that consumption of beef is not a fundamental right of a citizen and the state could regulate a person's fundamental right to have his choice of food.
Manohar pointed out that the state legislation can regulate consumption of any animal flesh, saying there is already prohibition on consumption of meat of wild boar, deer and other animals.
"Five states, including Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana have allowed import of beef despite a ban on slaughtering those animals," Chinoy pointed out, saying in Maharashtra the government has not yet contemplated regulation on beef imports.
Under the new Act, only slaughter of water buffaloes, which yields Carabeef, considered an inferior quality meat, has been allowed.
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.