No objective to impose vegetarian regime: Govt

Over 300 persons have been prosecuted under Maharashtra‘s new beef ban law since it was enacted eight months ago. The state government provided this information to the Bombay high court, where it has rejected the claim that people who consume beef con stitute a “cultural minority“.

In its affidavit before a division bench of Justices Abhay Oka and S C Gupte, which is hearing petitions challenging the beef ban, the state said between March 2015, when the law was brought into force, and October, around 155 cases were lodged under the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amend ment) Act. Mumbai, with two FIRs, is at the bottom of the chart that is led by Amravati with 54 cases. Most of the offences relate to sale or transport of bulls, bullock for slaughter, which is punishable with a jail term of up to five years and a fine of Rs 10,000. The possession of meat of a cow, bull or bullock, which can be punished with one-year imprisonment and a fine of Rs 2,000, has also been invoked in many cases.

The affidavit by the state, whose legal team is led by advocate general S G Aney and advocate Hiten Venegavkar, insisted there is no fundamental right to consume beef, and rejected the notion of a cultural minority .“India is a vast country and people have different cuisine as part of their daily food. Eating a particular food does not entitle the constitution of a minority… The state’s objective is not to impose a vegetarian regime,“ the state’s affidavit said. A coalition of Mumbai citizens in their petition had urged the court to protect their rights, as they constitute a “cultural minority“ comprising of persons who consume beef.

Commencing hearings in the matter on Saturday , the HC heard various arguments seeking the overturning of the law.The main focus of the attack was section 5D of the law which criminalizes the possession of beef and has the effect of banning the consumption of beef even if it is imported from other states or countries.

Senior advocate Aspi Chinoy said the provision seemed to be an independent law, which had no nexus with the main law that was purportedly framed to prevent the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullock in Maharashtra.

Senior advocate Mihir Desai, representing an owner of a cold storage, challenged the validity of the law that empowered the police to enter premises for search and seizure merely on the suspicion that beef is sto red. The HC pointed out that the CrPC allows police to conduct search and seizure if it suspects a crime has been committed.Advocate Desai urged for the reading down of the penal provisions of the law so that possession of beef without knowledge that it was of cow, bull or bullock was not treated as a crime.

The HC also heard a petition by farmers in Aurangabad who claimed that the state had not considered their plight before enacting the ban. The petitioners said many were not in a position to maintain bullock which had outlived their utility for agriculture purposes and the market for sale of such cattle had fallen. They urged the HC to strike down the law or order the state to purchase the cattle at market prices. Another petitioner pointed to the WHO and MoEF report that said cattle were responsible for greenhouse emissions and sought the lifting of the ban on their slaughter. The HC has scheduled the case for further hearing on December 9, 2015.