Is Beef Ban in Maharashtra constitutional?
The Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill took 19 years to become law - it was first passed by the state's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena government in 1995 and was sent to the president for approval in January 1996. The president had approved the bill recently in the month of March 2015. The slaughter of cows was previously prohibited in the state under the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act of 1976. However, the passage of the new Act will ban the slaughter of bulls as well as bullocks, which was previously allowed based on a fit-for-slaughter certificate.
Many beef traders are unhappy and jobless because of this amendment, in a way the rights of these beef traders are being violated under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India which gives them the right “to practice any profession, or to carry any occupation, trade or business”.
“Nothing in sub clause (g) of the said clause shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it imposes, or prevent the State from making any law imposing, in the interests of the general public, reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause.” Whereas the new law that is being imposed is beyond reasonable restrictions as it is forcing the beef traders to lose their job and not allow them to practice the profession of their choice. Just to please one part of the community the state is taking away the only source of their livelihood of the minority community. In my opinion this cannot be justified as reasonable restriction.
All the judgments related to the discussion on beef ban do not delve on the part that the ban leads to problems for thousands of people of the minority caste as compared to Hindus i.e. the Muslims and Dalits. They are the main persons whose lives are getting affected. Out of all the meat, beef is the meat, which is the cheapest, and by banning beef it is making lives of the poor more and more difficult. On the whole even the Supreme Court in the case of Mohd Hanif Quareshi and others v State of Bihar leaves the question of this fundamental right unanswered. They are giving preference to directive principle in comparison to non-negotiable fundamental right and also in this case they recognized that a complete ban, irrespective of the age of cattle did interfere with their right to trade and livelihood and the judgments for nearly forty years following this judgment reflected this sentiment.
The Maharashtra government had in their defense to petitions that were filed before the Bombay High Court quoted “It is considered that the economy of Maharashtra was still predominantly agricultural and cow progeny is its backbone. Bulls and bullocks are useful not only as draught animal but also for agricultural purposes and breeding. They never cease to be useful as their dung is also a form of rich manure. Considering their usefulness, it was felt necessary to preserve and protect this cow progeny, including bulls and bullocks” whereas "Farmers have complained that unproductive cattle are a huge economic burden on them at a time when they themselves are being forced to lead a hand to mouth existence.
The cost of rearing such cattle is nearly Rs 200 per day which farmers just cannot afford". In my opinion there is no economic purpose of cattle in practical life as the money earned for cow dung will never exceed the cost which the farmers are facing in maintaining the cattle. So for the betterment of the farmers the State should rather allow cow slaughter but only for draught animals as there is not much purpose left for them as the previous legislation present before this legislation.
Also in my opinion banning beef would not lead to beef being completely removed from the state. In practical life this will lead to illegal trade and the state is losing out on tax money which could have been earned if not for the state to be just on the good side of the majority community. This tax money could have been used for betterment of the citizens, which is more important than banning beef for the vote banks of the majority community.
There are clearly no economical or agricultural benefits of a blanket ban and moreover, it violates a community’s fundamental right to trade and occupation. Since the possession of beef has also been criminalized, the legislation blatantly curtails the right to choice of food of a huge population. Moreover looking at the practical impact of these laws and bans, according to the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) as per 2007, meat production in India is estimated at 6.3 million tonnes, making India the world’s fifth largest meat producer, with 31% of the 62% bovine meat being that from cattle, certified by authorities as fit for slaughter. These numbers are a clear indication of how many of those involved in the trade are set to lose their livelihoods as a result of a slow and steady move towards a nation-wide ban on the slaughter of cow and other cattle.
Also, with regard to the Supreme Court judgments, the question one needs to address is not whether or not the judicial interventions and proclamations on prohibition of cow slaughter are constitutional because they are in conformity with the different interpretations of Art 48 and other directive principles of the constitution, but whether they are unconstitutional because they trump certain non-negotiable fundamental rights guaranteed to every citizen under the Indian Constitution.
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