The Bombay High Court ruled that the state could not dictate what a citizen could or could not eat in the privacy of his own home
You can once again eat beef in Maharashtra, as long as it is sourced from outside the state. Recognising a person's right to eat as he chooses in his own home, the Bombay High Court yesterday struck down major amendments to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, 1995 – Section 5D and 9B — relaxing the beef ban to a significant extent.
Several groups had protested against the beef ban in Maharashtra which came into effect last year. The court yesterday held that the state cannot control what a citizen does in his house, which is his own castle, as long as it is not something contrary to law.
What it means
While it is still illegal to slaughter a cow, bull or calf in Maharashtra, no one can stop a citizen from eating beef that has been slaughtered in another state. What's more, the onus is now on the state to prove that a citizen has violated the beef ban.
"As far as the choice of food is concerned, citizens must be left alone, especially when the food of their choice is not injurious to health," stated the judgment, while Justice Suresh Gupte observed, "How can a layman prove whether he is eating beef or anything else? He is not a specialised person; it should be done by a forensic laboratory."
The ruling is a major jolt for the BJP-led government, which introduced the beef ban last year. The state had asked the High Court to put a stay on the order, as they wanted to appeal against it in the apex court. However, the bench refused to do so, citing Article 21 (protection of personal life and liberty) of the Constitution.
"Sections 5D and 9B of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976, have been struck down on the grounds that they infringe on the fundamental right guaranteed in Article 21 of the Constitution of India," said Justice Abhay Oka.
"We have already held that right to privacy is an integral part of a citizen's personal liberty under Article 21. The state cannot make an intrusion into his home and prevent him from possessing and eating food of his choice. A citizen has a right to lead a meaningful life within the four corners of his house, as well as outside his house," the order stated.
Both sections came into force last March, when the President approved the amendments proposed in 1995, introducing several controversial changes. For one, only the cow was forbidden for slaughter, sale and consumption, but bulls and bullocks were also included under the beef ban last year. Also, it became the citizens' responsibility to prove that they had not consumed or stored beef.
Senior counsel Aspi Chinoy, who appeared for petitioner Harish Jagtiani welcomed the order. "It's a salutary judgment; unnecessary intrusion into the personal liberty of citizens to eat what they choose has now been stopped by the court. As long as food is not harmful to health, one should be allowed to eat it. There is an exception only in case of cows, as it is in the interest of agriculture."
The state had raised the health and agriculture cards to defend the beef ban. The state argued that cow flesh was high in saturated fats and could cause heart diseases and cancer, and bulls and bullocks were useful not only as draught animals in farming, but their waste was also an important source of fuel and manure.
The then advocate general Shreehari Aney also justified the ban saying there was no fundamental right to choice of food or to eat beef. On the other hand, several petitioners argued that the HC should use its powers under Article 226 (high court's power to issue writs) and redress the ban, which was a violation of personal liberty. "You can cannot criminalize an innocuous act," Chinoy had told the court.
> Section 5D: No person should have flesh of any of the above animals (cow, bull and bullock) slaughtered outside Maharashtra
> Section 9B: The onus is on the accused to prove innocence