The BJP government in Maharashtra, which justified the ban on slaughter of cows in the Bombay High Court, on Monday told a two-member bench that it is “making a beginning” and “may consider” a move to ban slaughter of goats as well.
The bench of Justice V M Kanade and Justice A R Joshi was hearing two petitions challenging a provision of the amended law banning the sale and consumption of beef in the state.
During the hearing on Monday, the court asked the state’s Advocate General (AG) Sunil Manohar why only slaughter of cows and its progeny has been banned. To which the government responded saying “we are making a beginning”.
The AG told the court that the objective of the ban was two-fold — to save animals from slaughter and preserving them for the agrarian economy. When it was pointed out that goats too are useful animals, the AG said it “may consider” such a move to ban slaughter of goats as well.
The AG, however, added that the state’s objective was not to promote vegetarianism or non-vegetarianism, but to regulate. “To regulate is not to prohibit absolutely,” he said.
The petitioners have challenged the validity of Section 5D of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, 1995, which stipulates that people in the state may not possess beef (meat of cow, bull or bullock) even if the slaughter is done outside Maharashtra.
Appearing for one of the petitioners, senior counsel Aspi Chinoy argued that the said section of the law was “arbitrary” and deprived people of their right to life and liberty. Chinoy argued that if the state had put its foot down and banned procurement of beef or its consumption from outside the state, then it had to show an “overwhelming public interest”. Calling it “extraneous” and “arbitrary”, the lawyer submitted that the right to choose to eat was a right to privacy and the same formed a part of the right to life and liberty.
“The law should not be arbitrary, excessive and unjust that compels public interest and affects their rights,” Chinoy argued.
However, AG Sunil Manohar denied that the ban on import of beef was an infringement of citizens’ right to life and liberty. “Article 21 should is balanced by considering the Directive Principles of the state and enacting laws. The right to eat is neither an absolute right, not absolute freedom. Freedom is governed by laws,” Manohar argued.
Arguing against Section 5D, Chinoy said it showed no “nexus” between preservation of animals and import of beef from outside the state. “The Act is meant for banning slaughter, and removal of the provision in question does not affect the Act… The only reason I can see is easing enforcement, but that is no reason to stop import of beef as it is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution,” Chinoy said.
The AG contested the arguments, saying the sole reason why the President gave his assent to the law was to widen the ambit of the law’s enforcement. “Section 5D cannot be divorced from the entire Act. It is an integral part of the whole scheme of the Act which deals with slaughter of cow and its progeny,” the AG said. The law was in place to check illegal import of beef and to create a “sense of sympathy” towards animals, he added.
The High Court has given two weeks’ time to the state government to file a reply in the form of an affidavit.
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