Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Friday de-criminalised possession and consumption of beef in Maharashtra. However, the ban on slaughter in the state was upheld by the court. According to the court order, one can possess and consume beef if the animal is slaughtered outside Maharashtra.
The high court has struck down section in Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act which criminalised possession of beef brought from outside Maharashtra, saying only "conscious possession" of the meat of animals slaughtered in the state will be held as an offence.
A division bench of Justices A S Oka and S C Gupte struck down sections 5(d) and 9 (b) of the Maharashtra Animals Preservation (Amendment) Act, which criminalised and imposed punishment on persons found in possession of beef of animals, slaughtered in the state or outside, saying it infringes upon a person's Right to Privacy.
"Section 5(c) of the Act which criminalised mere possession of beef has been read down to conscious possession of the beef. If a person from whom beef has been found did not have prior knowledge of the meat, then he cannot be prosecuted. Only conscious possession can be held as an offence," the court said.
Under the Act of 1976, there was ban on cow slaughter and possession and consumption of their meat. However, in 2015, the ban on slaughter of bulls and bullocks was also included in the Act by an amendment.
Lawyer Rakesh Kumar Singh, who represented the government, also said, "Beef business can be done , but it should not be of animals from Maharashtra."
With the HC ruling, the burden of proving innocence will not be on individuals and the onus to prove that the law was violated lies on the prosecution.
The order came on a bunch of petitions filed in the high court challenging the constitutional validity of the Act and in particular, possession and consumption of beef from animals slaughtered outside Maharashtra.
"We are upholding the constitutional validity of the provisions of the Act which bans slaughter of bulls and bullocks. They are valid and legal," the court said.
"However, section 5(d) of the Act which criminalises possession of beef infringes upon a person's Right to Privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and hence is liable to be struck down. Similarly, section 9(b) which imposes penal action for possession also has to be struck down," Justice Oka said.
The court while striking down the two sections - 5(d) and 9(b) - said it was "unconstitutional". .