Bombay HC ruling relief to beef eaters

The Bombay High Court’s ruling on the Maharashtra government’s beef ban law mixes a key restriction and some relaxations, by upholding the main part of the law and striking down some of its provisions. The court has upheld the ban on slaughter of cows and bulls, but has given relief to beef eaters by declaring that it is not illegal to eat beef and to transport and keep it at home. In a way it upholds the right to eat beef without killing the cow. It may not be as absurd as the proposition sounds, but does not help the beef-eater much in practical terms. The law had totally banned the slaughter of the animals, their purchase and sale for slaughter and possession and transportation of beef. The ruling has now decriminalised the possession and eating of beef, and even its sale, if it is brought from outside the state.

The judgment asserts the citizens’ right to eat any food that they like and declares that they should be left alone, especially when the food of their choice is not injurious to health. The court has done well to invoke the right to privacy, as part of the right to life in this context, by stating that the state cannot control what a citizen does in his house, if he is not acting contrary to law. This would make it legal to eat beef at home or in a restaurant if it is brought from outside the state. This needs to be proved
with bills, if challenged, though the court has rightly shifted the burden of proof to the state. 

While the constitutional rights and freedom relating to eating have been upheld, in practice it may not be easy to eat beef. Availability will be low because beef is banned in 20 states in the country. There will be harassment and persecution of beef-eaters as they will have to show that beef has come from outside the state. It will be expensive because it has to be imported from outside. It will no longer be a cheap item of food available to poor people. Many people working in the beef business and leather industry will continue to be affected. Old cattle become a burden for farmers, as the drought has clearly  shown. The deleterious impact of the ban is yet to be fully experienced. It will continue to be seen as directed against some sections of the population. All this makes a strong case for the lifting of the ban altogether. Its claimed benefits are false, and the negatives are many.


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