The Bombay high court on Thursday said it would start hearing from December 5 all the petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the beef ban legislation in Maharashtra.
A division bench of justices A S Oka and S C Gupte said it will hear the petitions on December 5, 9 and 11 and then assign more dates, if required. The bench had to be specially constituted by Acting Chief Justice V K Tahilramani after Justice Gautam Patel, who was presiding with Justice A S Oka, recused from hearing the petitions as he had written an article in a newspaper 2012 after the Karnataka government proposed a similar beef ban.
In February 2015, President Pranab Mukherjee had granted sanction to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act. While the Act had banned slaughter of cows way back in 1976, the recent amendments prohibited slaughter of bulls and bullocks.
According to the amended Act, the sale of bulls and bullocks in the state is an offence punishable with five-year jail term and Rs 10,000 fine. Besides, possession of meat of a cow, meat of bull or bullock is also an offence for which the punishment prescribed is one-year jail and Rs 2,000 fine.
While hearing the petitions, the high court had in April refused to grant an interim stay on the law on the issue of possession of beef.
Arif Kapadia, a city resident, and noted lawyer Harish Jagtiani, challenged this provision of law which says mere possession of beef in any place in the state is a crime.
According to Jagtiani, the provision is arbitrary and hits upon the cosmopolitan nature of the city which houses people from all religions and communities. Kapadia, on the other hand, described as "draconian" Section 5(D) of the Act, which makes possession of meat of any cow, bull or bullock slaughtered outside the state a cognisable and non-bailable offence with punishment up to one year in jail and Rs 2,000 fine.
The other petitions were filed by Vishal Sheth, a lawyer, and Shaina Sen, a student.
The duo had said, "We are Hindus who are consumers of beef, which is now part of our diet and nutrition sources. The ban on beef and criminalising its sale and possession violates fundamental rights of citizens."
On September 21, the high court had rejected the plea in a bunch of petitions seeking relaxation of beef ban in Maharashtra during a three-day period for Eid festival, also known as Bakri-Eid.
The court was of the view that it cannot temporarily suspend the beef ban as it was hearing petitions challenging the Act.