Despite a Bombay High Court order allowing people in Maharashtra to consume beef brought from other states or countries, for trader Sadique Qureshi, the harassment associated with possession of the meat has not ended. Around a week ago, two trucks carrying beef that he was transporting from Karnataka to Mumbai were allegedly stopped midway by gau rakshaks, according to Qureshi. He says this is just one of the many incidents being faced by traders like him.
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Qureshi, who is from Pune, earlier slaughtered bulls or bullocks for a living and supplied the meat to shops and restaurants across the state. However, with the ban on slaughter of cows, bulls or bullocks upheld by the court, he has begun sourcing beef from other states such as Karnataka. This has meant continued attacks by vigilante groups or gau rakshaks, he claims.
“There is lack of clarity regarding implementation of the High Court orders. The police at the ground level are either clueless, or don’t want to take a chance and so we are booked,” he said. Qureshi claimed the orders of the High Court were not being implemented fully. “The Maharashtra government is not implementing the orders of the court. I am not slaughtering the animals. I am getting the meat from other states and have the required certificates to prove this,” he claimed.
“My vehicles carrying beef were stopped in the middle of the night by a gau rakshak samiti. They started threatening the drivers. They were finally taken to two different police stations in Pune. Eventually, while complaints were registered, the police cooperated in one of the cases and we managed to free the vehicle. The other truck is still with the police,” said Qureshi.
The High Court, on May 6, upheld the Maharashtra government’s ban on slaughter of the cow and its progeny in the state, but allowed people to consume beef imported from other states, observing that a ban on imported beef would be “an infringement of right of privacy, which is a fundamental right”.
The court said the objective of the ban was to protect the cow and its progeny, not to prevent residents from eating beef that may be brought from a state or a country where there is no prohibition on cow slaughter.
But, months after the order, there seems to be a reluctance in people to get involved in the business anymore or to serve the meat in restaurants.
According to the Mumbai Suburban Beef Dealers Association, no one is getting beef from other states.
“There is too much harassment involved in the entire process. There have been instances of disturbances when some people were getting beef from Goa in a bus. This meat is usually eaten by poor people and the process of getting it from other states is far too expensive. There is also the issue of how fresh the meat will remain in the end. It is not profitable. No one is getting beef from other states as far as I know,” said president of the association Mohammad Ali Qureshi.
The cold storages in the city too are no longer stocking beef items. “There is a fear of harassment. We stopped storing beef when the ban was announced. In terms of importing it, there is lack of clarity. For instance, we import canned tuna, but that is not possible for beef products as the law is still unclear,” said Sunil Desouza owner of Marvel Cold Storage.
Arif Chowdhary from the All India Jamiatul Quresh feels nothing has been done by the government and the police to ensure that officials at the ground level are aware of the changes in law, so that the High Court order can be implemented in letter and spirit.
“The Director General of Police should issue circulars to all police stations to inform officers that possession of beef slaughtered outside the state is no longer a crime. This is important to end harassment,” said Chowdhary.
He added that they had filed an intervention application in the matter with the state government already having moved the Supreme Court against the High Court’s directions. The matter is likely to come up for hearing on November 28.
While in high-end restaurants and hotels beef might be off the plate, in smaller restaurants running in areas like Bhendi Bazaar, buffalo meat is being served.
A source at the Taj Hotels in Mumbai said that they had stopped serving beef soon after the ban. They further stated that they had not thought of importing it as the freshness of the meat served is very important in their fine dining restaurants. According to sources, almost all of the high-end hotels in the city have stopped serving beef owing to legal hurdles and the harassment associated with importing it.
But Savera Hotel in Bhendi Bazaar serves buffalo meat. “We have someone who supplies us legally slaughtered buffalo meat from Deonar. We have not faced any problems due to this. We are serving it as there is still demand for it,” said Mohammed Aqeel, owner of the hotel.
According to the commissioner of Animal Husbandry Department Kantilal Umap, the High Court has watered down the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, 1976.
In its order, the High Court held that preventing a citizen from possessing the flesh of a cow, bull or bullock slaughtered outside the state amounts to prohibiting a citizen from possessing and consuming food of his choice. In a 245-page judgment, the court struck down provisions for conviction of a person for one year and a fine of Rs 2,000 for import of such meat. It also struck down the right of police or any other authority to stop or search a vehicle carrying bovine flesh slaughtered in another state.
“The law has become milder after the High Court order. There are cases where the animal is being slaughtered within Maharashtra but the traders are getting away by claiming that it was slaughtered outside the state. To prove otherwise becomes difficult for us. Right now the matter has reached the Supreme Court, so we will have to wait and watch. Parties have approached court seeking striking down of the law in its entirety, while the Bhartiya Gau Raskhak Dal from Gujarat has approached the court seeking that the Act should be kept in its original form,” said Umap.
Meanwhile, according to a senior police officer, no circular has been issued by them to various police stations informing them of the changes in the Act. “The government is yet to make relevant amendments in the Act. We are implementing the law but there are clashes in some instances when the gau rakshaks get to know of illegal slaughtering. Otherwise, the police officers are doing everything to ensure no one is harassed,” said the police officer.