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Age Debate: My plate, my way

Published : May 12, 2016, 7:29 am IST
Updated : May 12, 2016, 7:29 am IST

The Bombay high court’s decision to decriminalise possession of beef in Maharashtra is right as the government cannot decide what people should eat.

Ansari Md Umar
 Ansari Md Umar

The Bombay high court’s decision to decriminalise possession of beef in Maharashtra is right as the government cannot decide what people should eat. In fact, a government taking such decisions infringes upon the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19, 21 and 25 of the Constitution. It takes one’s right to have food of his/her choice away. The state has no business to interfere in what is cooking in my kitchen.

It took 20 years for the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill 1995 to come into force. Considering this gap, there should have been a new study on how the ban of beef would affect the lives of citizens.

The poor are dependent on cheap food irrespective of their religion. For them, beef is a good choice of meat because it is cheap and easily available.

There is an increase in number of people eating beef. The beef industry is interconnected with various industries, like leather and pharmaceuticals.

Farmers are the most affected by the Maharashtra government’s decision to ban beef, especially at a time when we are experiencing a deficiency in rains for the last few years.

If a farmer does not have anything to feed his family, how would he feed animals Our villages are facing acute water shortage and villagers are having great difficulty in fetching drinking water, so how will they provide drinking water to their cattle

If a farmer cannot earn money from his farm then he has a choice of selling his cattle. Even if cattle were sent to “gaushalas”, how would it help farmers In a way, the government is snatching the fundamental right of life from farmers and others directly or indirectly connected to the beef industry.

While the government can say that the meat industry is vast and butchers have a choice to turn to other meat industries, like goat, chicken or fish, it is not practical.

One should not forget that people directly involved in the beef business are hardly educated; they have learnt this business from their ancestors, they are not diploma or degree holders. It would be very difficult for them to shift to any other business since the government has imposed the ban without giving any reaction time.

The media is taking pains of going to drought-affected areas to bring to the fore difficulties faced by villagers and farmers. Maharashtra has already witnessed suicides by farmers. Stopping them from selling their cattle has increased their burden and has pushed them towards taking drastic steps. According to news reports in March, even BJP MLA Bhimrao Dhonde criticised the beef ban. He is a farmer who has first-hand knowledge of the difficulties faced by farmers. The Bombay high court has rightly struck down a section in the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, which criminalises the possession of beef brought from outside Maharashtra.

Ansari Md Umar was a trader dealing in livestock. He is one of the petitioners who had challenged the entire amended Animal Preservation Act.

$The govt is snatching right to life

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The Bombay high court delivered its judgment on May 6, 2016 on a clutch of petitions challenging the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act 1976 (as amended in 1995) and assented to by the President in February 2015. Two issues were mainly raised in these petitions challenging Section 5D, which prohibits possession and consumption of beef sourced from animals slaughtered outside the state and consequent penal provisions as well as the provisions regarding the burden of proof placed on the accused.

The high court upheld the constitutional validity of the entire law (after the Supreme Court judgment of 2005 upholding a similar law from Gujarat) except for Section 5D and Section 9B (the Gujarat law did not have parallel provisions), which were struck down as being unconstitutional and violative of fundamental rights of consumers of beef.

Though the court struck down Section 5D, a careful consideration of the matter will lead one in favour of this provision. This provision was inserted for ensuring effective implementation of the law, which prohibits slaughter of entire cow progeny in the state. In the absence of this provision, one can always claim that beef in his/her possession is sourced from outside the state and the law-enforcing agencies will be at a loss to refute this (especially when there is no burden of proof on the consumer).

In the states neighbouring Maharashtra, (Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh), though there is a ban on slaughter of the female cow, the male animals can be slaughtered. In Kerala, there is no prohibition at all. In this situation, it is quite easy for a beef trader to open a shop on paper in any of these states and issue sale bills for sale of beef. Based on these sale bills, traders of beef in Maharashtra can store and sell beef, which may actually have been sourced from the illegal slaughter of cow progeny in the state, though it is prohibited under the law.

The consumer of beef can always say that he sourced the beef from a trader, who in turn sourced it from outside the state. This can be a very grave loophole, defeating the very purpose of the law. Though this point was pleaded before the court, it was probably ignored in favour of upholding the perceived fundamental right of consumers.

The petitioners claimed consumption of beef as a fundamental right as part of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. However, beef is not an essential or staple diet. One may relish beef, but it is not life-sustaining.

Preservation of cattle wealth is not in the interest of the state alone, but in the interest of the nation as a whole. Hence, even if this provision appears to be contrary to the provision in other states, it is in the overall national interest.

While the state has declared its intention to go and appeal to the Supreme Court, one hopes that the issue will receive reconsideration.

Rajendra Joshi is a trustee of Viniyog Parivar Trust, which has been campaigning against cattle slaughter since it was founded 20 years ago

$It defeats the purpose of the law

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