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The Supreme Court today sought response on a plea of the Maharashtra government challenging the Bombay High Court order decriminalising possession of beef in case of animals which are slaughtered outside the state. The state government has challenged the high court's May 6 last year verdict striking down sections 5(d) and 9(b) of the Maharashtra Animals Preservation (Amendment) Act, 1995, which criminalised and imposed punishment on persons found in possession of beef of the animals, slaughtered in or outside the state, on the ground that it infringed upon a person's "right to privacy". The matter came up for hearing before an apex court bench comprising justices R K Agrawal and A M Sapre which issued notice on the appeal and tagged it along with several pending pleas related to the issue. The high court had termed as "unconstitutional" the provisions which held mere possession of beef as crime, saying only "conscious possession" of the meat of the animals slaughtered in the state would be an offence. The plea, filed through advocate Nishant R Katneshwarkar, has assailed the judgement saying the restriction imposed by the 1995 Act on possession of flesh of cow, bull or bullock could not be interpreted and concluded to be an infringement of "right to privacy". It has said that high court "while coming to the finding that right to privacy forms part of the fundamental right to personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, ought to have appreciated that right to privacy has not yet been designated as a fundamental right". The plea said that according to the verdict, obligation upon the state to prove "conscious possession" of beef would "constitute an unsurmountable circumstance readily available to the wrongdoer to escape sentence". In its judgement, the high court had upheld the ban on slaughter of bulls and bullocks imposed by the Maharashtra government, but had decriminalised possession of beef in case the animals were slaughtered outside the state. Under the state Act of 1976, there was a ban on cow slaughter and possession and consumption of the meat.
However, in 2015, the ban on the slaughter of bulls and bullocks was also included in the Act by an amendment. According to the verdict, the burden of proving innocence would not be on individuals and the onus to prove that the law was violated lay on the prosecution. The judgement had come on a batch of petitions filed in the high court challenging the constitutional validity of the Act and in particular, the possession and consumption of beef of the animals slaughtered outside Maharashtra.
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