The Bombay High Court had on May 6 last year struck down sections 5(D) and 9(B) of the Maharashtra Animals Preservation (Amendment) Act, 1995.
While section 5(D) criminalises possession of flesh of cows, bulls or bullocks, slaughtered outside Maharashtra, section 9(B) imposed burden on the accused to prove that meat or flesh possessed by him/her does not belong to these animals. The state government had filed an appeal in the top court.
The top court observed this while hearing a batch of appeals filed against the high court verdict decriminalizing the possession of beef in case of animals slaughtered outside the state.
A bench comprising Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan was told by senior advocate Indira Jaising, representing some of the petitioners, that after Thursday’s privacy verdict by a nine-judge constitution bench, the right to eat food of one’s choice was now protected under privacy.
Senior advocate CU Singh also told the top court that the privacy judgement would have to be looked into while deciding the issue.
“Yes, that judgement will have some bearing in these matters,” the bench observed.
The Supreme Court had on Thursday said “nobody would like to be told what to eat or how to dress” while ruling that these activities come under the realm of right to privacy.
During the hearing, Indira Jaising referred to a 2005 seven- judge bench judgement of the top court imposing a complete ban on slaughtering of even unproductive bovine and said that this was also required to be re-looked by a larger bench.
“Right to eat food of your choice is now protected under privacy. Right to eat is now our fundamental right. Apart from this, I have also raised the issue of reconsidering the seven-judge bench judgement in the Mirzapur Moti case by a larger bench,” she said.
The bench said it would consider the issue on the next date of hearing and posted the matter after two weeks. The petitioners have challenged the high court’s verdict upholding ban on slaughter imposed by the state government. Indira Jaising informed the bench that the Maharashtra government has already challenged the high court verdict and the matter was pending before another bench of the top court.
“Maharashtra government’s plea is pending before another bench. Notice was issued on the plea. We are challenging the same judgement of the high court. I am only asking for tagging of all these matters,” she said.
The Maharashtra government had approached the top court challenging the high court’s verdict striking down sections 5 (D) and 9(B) of the 1995 Act on the ground that it infringed upon a person’s “right to privacy”.
The high court had termed as “unconstitutional” the provisions which held that mere possession of beef was a crime, saying only “conscious possession” of the meat of animals slaughtered in the state would be an offence.
It had upheld the ban on slaughter of bulls and bullocks imposed by the Maharashtra government, but had decriminalized the possession of beef in case the animals were slaughtered outside the state.
The state government, in its appeal before the top court, has assailed the verdict 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 had said the 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 Constitution, ought to have appreciated that right to privacy was not yet designated as a fundamental right”.
The plea had 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”.
The verdict 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 animals slaughtered outside Maharashtra.