The Bombay high court ruled on Friday that it will no longer be illegal to consume or keep imported beef but said ban on beef slaughter will continue in Maharashtra.
It struck down two provisions of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976 which prohibits the import of beef, and criminalises possession of beef.
A division bench of justice Abhay Oka and justice SC Gupte held that section 5(d), which prohibits possession of beef imported from other states, violated right to privacy and the right to choice of food that is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
It also held that section 9 (b), which penalises possession of beef by providing imprisonment of up to one year and a fine of Rs 2,000, as unconstitutional.
A number of petitions were filed in high court challenging the constitutional validity of various provisions of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976 which were introduced by 1995 amendment, but brought into force 20 years later in March 2015.
The petitioners primarily contended that section 5(d) was extraneous, as it had no rational nexus with the object sought to be achieved by the enactment brought in force to protect cow progeny in Maharashtra.
“There is no reason for the state of Maharashtra to be worried as to whether there are enough cows, bulls and bullocks in Ireland or for that matter some other country or some other state in India,” senior advocate Aspi Chinoy, who represented one of the petitioners, said.
The senior advocate had also pointed out that in several other states there was a ban on the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks, but there was no ban on import of beef from other states or other countries. He said section 5(d) curtails the fundamental right of choice of food of citizens, covered under the right to liberty guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
He said reasonable restrictions can be imposed on fundamental rights, but such restrictions must be justified on the ground of some compelling public interest.
The state government, on the other hand, contended that the amendment has not been enacted to harass beef eaters, but to prohibit slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks in the larger interest of the agrarian society.
“Let’s not look at the act as something done to harass people,” advocate general Shrihari Aney said.