The Maharashtra government is adding fat to the raging national fire regarding beef bans by moving the Supreme Court to revive sections of the Act that governs the possession and procurement of the contentious meat in the state. If the government succeeds in getting the sections revived, it will be permissible for police officers to stop and search the people they suspect of possessing the meat of cows, bulls or bullocks slaughtered outside Maharashtra. The police will also be able to enter people's homes to carry out searches, reported Times of India.
In May, last year, the Bombay High Court, in a strongly worded, 245-page judgement, struck down two sections of the The Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, which criminalised the possession of beef, regardless of whether the animals were slaughtered in or outside the state.
The reason for the judgement was that the two sections — 5(d) and 9(b), infringed on a citizen's right to privacy.
"The state cannot make an intrusion into his home and prevent a citizen from possessing and eating food of his choice... This intrusion on the personal life of an individual is prohibited by the right to privacy which is part of the personal liberty guaranteed by Article 21," the Bombay HC had said in its judgement.
Maharashtra's Devendra Fadnavis-led government is now challenging this judgement on the grounds that the right to privacy is part of the fundamental right to personal liberty, it is not a fundamental right by itself.
The government's appeal, filed through additional advocate general, Nishant Katneswarkar, claims, "Obviously, the HC failed to appreciate the law in its correct perspective," reported TOI.
Section 5(d) of the amended Act made it illegal for anyone living in Maharashtra to have in their possession cow, bull or bullock meat even if they were slaughtered outside the state. It made the possession of cow, bull or bullock meat punishable with one year's imprisonment and a fine of Rs 2,000. Section 9(b) put the onus on the accused to prove they are innocent of owning the meat.
In addition to this, the Bombay HC had also modified section 5(c) of the Act, which makes the possession of meat from the cow, bull or bullock slaughtered in the state an offence, stating that only "conscious possession" of such meat would be considered an offence.
However, it had upheld the ban on the slaughter of bulls and bullocks imposed by the Maharashtra government in 2015. Cow slaughter and the possession and consumption of cow meat has been banned in the state since 1976.
According to a Hindustan Times report, the government's petition claims that striking down Section 5(d) has created a loophole which allows wrongdoers to first transport the cattle outside Maharashtra for slaughter and then bring the beef back into state without fear of punishment.
It contested the striking down of section 9(b), saying that putting the onus of proving a violation of the act on the government would almost guarantee acquittals and gave the example of many laws that imposed the burden of proof of innocence on the accused, such as the Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substances Act, Essential Commodities Act, and the Foreign Exchange Management Act, reported HT.
The plea further said that obligation upon the state to prove "conscious possession" of beef would "constitute an insurmountable circumstance readily available to the wrongdoer to escape sentence," reported Firstpost
The matter is slated for hearing in the Supreme Court today. The state government has sought a stay on the Bombay High Court's order until the SC's ruling.
The SC is also hearing a petition by the Mumbai Suburban Beef Dealers Association challenging the Maharashtra beef ban. The association claims that dealers should be allowed to slaughter bulls and bullocks (not cows) that are over 16 years of age because they are too old to be used for farming, breeding or other agricultural purposes.
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