HC upholds Maharashtra beef ban, decriminalises possession

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Friday upheld the Maharashtra government's decision to ban slaughter of bulls/bullocks in the state but ruled that possession of beef slaughtered outside the state will not be a criminal offence.

The ruling by a division bench comprising Justice A.S. Oka and Justice S.C. Gupte came on a bunch of petitions challenging the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act that stipulated penal action even for possession of beef brought from outside the state.

Accordingly, while slaughter of bulls/bullocks will not be allowed in the state, bringing and consuming beef of animals slaughtered in other states into Maharashtra will be permitted.

Striking down Section 5D and 9B of the Act, which makes possession of beef from animals slaughtered outside the state as a criminal offence, the judges said these sections were "unconstitutional" and "infringe on a person's right to privacy, which is a fundamental right under Article 21 (Right to Life)".

The court ruled that only 'conscious possession' of meat of animals slaughter in Maharashtra could be held as an offence and the burden of proving this would be on the state and not on the individual.

Until 1976, under the Act, the state government banned slaughter of cows, possession and consumption of cow meat. The law was amended in 2015 to include slaughter of bulls and bullocks, possession and consumption of their meat.

The president of India had granted assent to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, which prohibited slaughter of bulls/bullocks as well as possession and consumption of their meat in the state.

For violators in the state, the Act stipulated a five-year jail and Rs.10,000 fine for the slaughter of bulls/bullocks and one-year imprisonment and Rs.2,000 fine for possession of beef.

The court did not grant relief on state government's plea for a stay on striking down of these sections from the Act, which had been challenged as 'draconian' by several petitioners.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis welcomed the judgment.

As for the other aspects of the high court order, Fadnavis told the media that if required, the state government will consider an appeal in the Supreme Court after seeking legal opinion.

The petitioners included activist Arif Kapadia, lawyers Vishal Seth and Harish Jagtiani and student Shaina Sen, besides representatives of the beef traders.