Citizens' Issues
High Court declines to suspend beef ban in Maharashtra
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.

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Cabinet hikes sugar import tax to 40 percent
The union cabinet on Wednesday raised the tax on import of sugar to 40 percent from 25 percent to check falling prices of the commodity and to enable loss-making mills to clear cane payments arrears.
 
It also withdrew the Duty Free Import Authorization scheme for exporters.
 
Besides, acceeding to millers' demands, the cabinet withdrew the excise duty on ethanol supplied for blending.
 
"It has been decided that ethanol produced from molasses generated during the next sugar season and supplied for ethanol blending would be exempted from excise duty and the price benefit would be passed on to the sugar mills/distilleries," the union food ministry said in a release.
 
"These measures will significantly improve the adverse price sentiments in respect of sugar and would improve the liquidity in the industry, facilitating the clearing up of arrears of cane dues to farmers," said the cabinet communique.
 
Last August, the central government raised the import duty on sugar to 25 percent from 15 percent as a measure of relief to millers beleaguered by higher cane prices and surplus stocks.
 
Prices fell below the cost of production in some states with surplus production for the fourth consecutive year.
 
Prices of sugar for mills in Uttar Pradesh, for instance, have fallen below Rs.25 per kg, while the cost of production remains at Rs.37 per kg.
 
Mills in the state, the second biggest producer in the country, owe farmers over Rs.5,000 crore, which they have not paid due to lower sugar prices.
 
The close to 100 private sugar mills in Uttar Pradesh have been at loggerheads with the state government, which makes the sugar companies pay a premium to farmers over the cane price fixed by the central government.
 
The central government has recently provided a subsidy of Rs.4,000 per tonne for the export of 1.4 million tonnes of raw sugar to improve the cash-flow of the millers.
 
Welcoming the decision, the Indian Sugar Mills Association in a statement urged the government "to quickly decide on our request to buy out 10 percent of our current year's sugar production".
 
"Only this step will help the industry come out of the crisis in the short run and ensure that a major portion of cane price arrears of farmers is cleared before the start of the next sugar season," said the millers' association.
 
ISMA has been demanding that the government give an export subsidy, create a two million tonnes buffer stock and restructure millers' debts.
 
"The immediate need is to reduce the surplus of 35 lakh tonnes of sugar blocking almost Rs.10,000 crore of cash flows," it said.
 
"The credit ratings of sugar companies in Uttar Pradesh are falling and are much lower than those of firms in the west and south, making it difficult to get funds. We face major liquidity problems," said Gursimran Mann, managing director of Simbhaoli Sugars.

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CBI files charge sheet against Jindal, Koda
The Central Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday filed a charge sheet against industrialist Naveen Jindal, former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda, ex-coal minister of state Dasari Narayan Rao, former coal secretary H.C. Gupta and others in the coal block allocation case in a court here.
 
The charge sheet was filed before Special Judge Bharat Parashar, who posted the matter for Thursday for the court's consideration.
 
The probe agency has named Jindal, Koda, Rao, Gupt with six other individuals and five companies as accused in the case.
 
The CBI has formally charged them with criminal conspiracy, cheating and various provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act. 
 
The case relates to allocation of Jharkhand's Amarkonda Murgadangal coal block to Jindal Steel and Gagan Sponge. 

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