The Gujarat High Court has suspended a 10-year sentence awarded by a sessions court to a man from Dhoraji town in Rajkot district for allegedly slaughtering a cow. The high court observed that the accused Salim Makrani is not alleged to have indulged in economic activity of animal slaughter, and therefore the court used “judicial discretion” to suspend his sentence.
“Having heard learned advocates for the respective parties, on overall consideration of material on record as well as the fact that the applicant is not alleged to have indulged into economical activity of animal slaughter, and is only alleged to have used the beef while preparing biryani for celebrating the marriage ceremony of his own daughter, this Court is of the opinion to exercise the judicial discretion to suspend the sentence, and accordingly suspends the sentence imposed upon the applicant,” the single judge bench of Justice RP Dholaria noted in its order issued on Wednesday.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Makrani’s lawyer Samir Khan said that the case of the prosecution was based on circumstantial evidence. “The bench appreciated that there was no prima facie case against the applicant as FSL (Forensic Science Laboratory) analysis could not establish beef in the biryani. The case of the prosecution was built on circumstances and the trial court could have given benefit of doubt to the accused,” he said. “The high court also appreciated that the applicant is not in the business of animal slaughter and therefore granted our plea for suspending the sentence.”
The high court ordered the immediate release of Makrani, and asked him to execute a personal bail bond of Rs 10,000 and one surety of a like amount for his release from jail, while he pursues his appeal against the sessions court judgment. The court also directed the applicant to surrender his passport, if any, to the trial court.
Police had booked Makrani for cow slaughter and theft after his neighbour Satar Koliya filed a complaint on January 29. The complaint said that Makrani, a casual labourer, stole Koliya’s two-year-old calf, slaughtered it and prepared akni (a biryani-like preparation) to serve guests on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding. The Dhoraji court pronounced 42-year-old Makrani guilty of theft and cow slaughter on July 6 and sentenced him to 10 year imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs1 lakh on him.
This was the first reported conviction in the state under the amended Gujarat Animal Preservation Act. The amendment was brought in 2017.
In the Gujarat Animal Preservation Act, 1954, cow slaughter attracted imprisonment of up to six months. By an amendment in 2011, the government had enhanced the punishment to seven years. In 2017, the Gujarat government amended Section 8 of the act, increasing the jail term to a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life imprisonment, and enhancing the penalty from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh. The Dhoraji court awarded the minimum sentence of 10 years to Makrani.
Makrani moved the high court last month, and the bench of Justice Dholaria suspended the sentence pending final disposal of his appeal.
During trial, the defence argued that the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), Rajkot, which analysed the meat, could not conclusively establish that it was beef. However, the trial court had ruled that it did not undermine the prosecution’s case that the calf had been slaughtered, and that the suspicion was on Makrani.
“Additionally. the accused is not challenging that a ceremony had been organised at his home. and that witnesses are stating that samples of biryani had been collected.,” Sessions Judge Hemantkumar Dave noted in his verdict, and putting the onus on the accused to prove he had not slaughtered the calf, added, “In such a scenario, it is incumbent upon the accused to prove that the meat found in (the) biryani was not obtained by slaughtering the said calf.”
Seeking suspension of the sentence in the high court, Makrani’s lawyer Samir Khan said the applicant was a victim of circumstances. “.even if the allegation levelled against the applicant may be believed to be true, then also this is not a case of animal slaughtering,” he said. “.applicant has become a victim of circumstances as he was to celebrate the marriage ceremony of his own daughter, and while preparing biryani, the beef was used. However the same is not getting any sort of support by conclusive proof from FSL. The applicant is not involved in any such economical activity and this is the solitary incident,” the high court order quoted Khan as having argued.
Additional public prosecutor Moxa Thakker however opposed the plea seeking suspension of sentencing in the high court, saying the provisions inserted in 2017 the Gujarat Animal Preservation Act provided stringent punishments for cow slaughter.
However, the high court bench exercised its “judicial discretion” while suspending sentence awarded to Makrani.
Thakker told The Indian Express that the prosecution would prove its case during the hearing of the criminal revision application filed by Makrani. “This is just suspension of sentence during pendency of the appeal. This appeal is still pending,” Thakker said. “(Suspending sentence) was the prima facie view of the court. At the time of final hearing of the appeal, the court shall look into every aspect and then deliver the order,” he added, saying “The judgement delivered by Dhoraji court is perfect, just and proper in the interest of justice.”
Makrani has been in police custody or judicial custody, since his dramatic arrest during the wedding ceremony of his daughter on January 29. Since his conviction, he has been lodged in Rajkot Central Jail. Sources close to the Makrani family said on Friday that they had completed the formalities for obtaining relevant documents from the High Court and were expecting Makrani to be released from Rajkot jail on Saturday.