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'People will now get beef in Maharashtra'

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf
May 06, 2016 14:17 IST

'Today we stand vindicated because the government's action has been struck down.'
'You can now bring beef from neighbouring states, far away states and other countries.'
'The government cannot tell you what to eat and what not to eat. Even if you are a vegetarian, this verdict is your victory.'

Advocate Firoz Bharucha argued Arif Kapadia's petition challenging the Maharashtra government's decision to bring bullocks and oxen under the ambit of the beef ban which hitherto applied only to cows.

Kapadia wanted the Maharashtra government to drop Sections 5D and 9B of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act because he felt they were draconian in nature.

The impugned Section 5D said, 'No person shall have in his possession flesh of any cow, bull or bullock slaughtered outside the state of Maharashtra and authorised the issuance of non-bailable warrant against the accused, while Section 9B placed the burden of proving the meat was not cow/bullock’s on the accused.

Bharucha spoke to Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com about what the Bombay high court May 6 judgment, which decriminalised the possession of beef even while upholding the ban on slaughter, means.

You have been contesting the case in the Bombay high court on the right to possess and eat beef in Maharashtra. How do you feel about this judgment?

To me, this was a question of principles. The government cannot tell you what to eat and what not to eat. If they do that, then people have the remedy to challenge that and go to court.

And today we stand vindicated because the government's action has been struck down. We were not fighting for slaughter. We got everything we asked from the court.

Does this judgment mean that you can bring beef into Maharashtra from Goa and Karnataka where the slaughter of bullocks and oxen is legal?

Wherever you want to bring it from, you can bring it (now). The only thing you cannot do is you cannot slaughter cows, bullocks and oxen in Maharashtra.

You can now bring beef from neighbouring states, far away states and other countries. You can do whatever you want. The government cannot tell you that you cannot eat beef.

Beef-eaters fear they could be arrested even for possessing beef. Can it still happen after the verdict?

It (arrest for eating or possession of beef) is completely illegal. They (the police) cannot do that (arrest a person for eating or possesion of beef).

Does this judgment mean that someone carrying beef from a meat shop cannot be arrested anymore?

Certainly yes, he cannot be arrested.

What about the slaughter of oxen and bullocks?

I am not concerned about that aspect. We only challenged Sections 5D and 9B (of the new Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act) which has now been struck down.

The butchers and all were not my area (of concern) and this petition does not (concern that).

Does it now mean that if a butcher is caught with beef on him, he need not prove where he got it from?

The police will have to prove that the butcher has slaughtered the bull in Maharashtra, it cannot be the other way round.

Earlier, if you were found to be in possession (of beef), you could land in jail. Now it is for the government and state machinery to prove that the butcher slaughtered that bull in Maharashtra.

Would you call this judgment a victory for beef-eaters?

It is a 100 percent victory for the people who want to eat beef, but it is also a victory for the people of Maharashtra.

The government cannot tell you what to eat and what not to eat. Even if you are a vegetarian, it is your victory.

The issue is much larger: Can the government dictate terms on what you can eat and what you cannot eat? The answer to that is no.

So it is a victory for everyone and not only beef-loving people. That is looking at it in a very narrow manner.

The larger issue is that it is a victory of the people, that the government cannot impose its will on the people. That is the message from the order.

There is also the fear that illegal slaughter will increase in Maharashtra after this order.

That is for the government of Maharashtra to find out how they can curb the slaughter. Slaughter is not legal in Maharashtra and they have to figure out a way of how to prevent slaughter.

One of the arguments you made in court was that beef is the cheapest source of nutrition.

Yes, and that has been upheld. People will get beef in Maharashtra, it is available in the market and all the arguments have been upheld.

IMAGE: One can tuck into beef steak in Maharashtra without any fear of the law following Friday's high court verdict. Photograph: Andrew Winning/Reuters

Syed Firdaus Ashraf / Rediff.com in Mumbai
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