The Bombay High Court has upheld the ban on slaughter of bulls and bullocks imposed by BJP-led Government in Maharashtra. But the court has also ruled that the possession of meat which is imported from other states cannot be called a criminal activity.
The High Court struck down as “unconstitutional” provisions which held mere possession of beef as a crime, saying only “conscious possession” of the meat of animals slaughtered in the state will be held as an offence.
A division bench of Justices A S Oka and S C Gupte struck down sections 5(d) and 9 (b) of the Maharashtra Animals Preservation (Amendment) Act, which criminalised possession of beef of animals slaughtered outside the state saying it infringes upon a person’s Right to Privacy.
“Section 5(c) of the Act which criminalised mere possession of beef has been read down to conscious possession of the beef. If a person from whom beef has been found did not have prior knowledge of the meat, then he cannot be prosecuted. Only conscious possession can be held as an offence,” the court said.
Under the Act of 1976, there was ban on cow slaughter and possession and consumption of their meat. However, in 2015, the ban on slaughter of bulls and bullocks was also included in the Act by an amendment.
Thus with this ruling, the burden of proving innocence will not be on individuals. The onus to prove that the law was violated lies on the prosecution.
The High Court order came on a bunch of petitions that challenged the constitutional validity of the Act and in particular, possession and consumption of beef from animals slaughtered outside Maharashtra.
“We are upholding the constitutional validity of the provisions of the Act which bans slaughter of bulls and bullocks. They are valid and legal,” the court said.
“However, section 5(d) of the Act which criminalises possession of beef infringes upon a person’s Right to Privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and hence is liable to be struck down. Similarly, section 9(b) which imposes penal action for possession also has to be struck down,” Justice Oka said.
In January this year, a division bench of Justices Oka and Gupte had reserved the order after hearing arguments of all parties involved.
In February 2015, the President had granted sanction to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act. While the Act had banned slaughter of cows way back in 1976, the recent amendments prohibited slaughter of bulls and bullocks, possession and consumption of their meat.
As per the Act, slaughter attracts a five-year jail term and Rs 10,000 fine and possession of meat of bull or bullockhands over one-year jail and Rs 2,000 fine.
Maharashtra government may approach the Supreme Court against the High Court order.
“…there are two provisions of the law that have been struck down by the high court. We will consult our lawyers and if necessary, will approach the Supreme Court against this. Other than these two provisions, the court has found no fault with the law,” CM Devendra Fadnavis said.
(With inputs from PTI)