Maharashtra government wants Supreme Court to allow cops to raid homes for beef
The Devendra Fadnavis-led regime is appealing against a Bombay HC order that had struck down the provision.
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Maharashtra might have had banned cow slaughter as far back as in 1976, but some aspects of the anti-beef hysteria have been taking shape only now. For example, the Devendra Fadnavis-led regime’s decision to challenge in Supreme Court a Bombay High Court decision striking down a clause of a state law that allowed cops to search and raid premises of individuals suspected of storing beef.
Section 5D of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, 1995 had received presidential assent only on March 4, 2015. This is the section that was struck down by Bombay High Court a year later, on the grounds that it violated the fundamental right to privacy. It’s interesting that the Bombay HC used the implied right to privacy to strike down the draconian clause, which the Maharashtra state government now wants to be resurrected.
According to a Times of India report, Maharashtra government has appealed to the SC to allow any police officer to stop and search a person suspected of possessing the meat of cow, bull or bullock slaughtered outside Maharashtra. Of course, slaughtering inside Maharashtra has been banned for four decades now.
The privacy question
It’s significant that Maharashtra state, in its appeal, has that the Bombay HC judgment dated May 6, 2016 “could not have held privacy to be a fundamental right as at that time” because at that time, larger-judge benches had held otherwise. Of course, the right to privacy is being debated by a nine-judge bench now, and the arguments are over, though the verdict is due.
Naturally, the outcome of the right to privacy debate would have a major impact on the Maharashtra government petition to re-allow cops to raid and search premises on beef suspicion.
According to the TOI report: “’Obviously, the HC failed to appreciate the law in its correct perspective, besides failing to observe judicial discipline, which is the foundation stone of the entire justice delivery system,’ the state said in its delayed appeal filed through additional advocate general Nishant Katneswarkar.”
Is beef the new drug?
The Bombay HC had also struck down Section 9B of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, 1995, which put the burden of proof of innocence on the accused, the person in whose possession beef was found. Bombay HC had said this was in breach of the Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, the fundamental right to protection of life and personal liberty, except according to procedure established by law.
In its appeal, Maharashtra state government has said: "The HC failed to consider that in a similar manner, to the Act in question, presumptions have been raised against accused and reverse burden has been placed on accused in different laws - Essential Commodities Act, Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, Wildlife Protection Act, Foreign Exchange Management Act, Food Adulteration Act and Customs Act."
It’s absolutely crucial to note the possession of beef is being equated with the possession of banned drugs and narcotic substances. This comparison is not only extremely disturbing, the seamless and casual manner in which the comparison has been made seems to indicate a presumption that it’s actually valid when that’s far from the case.
The anti-beef hysteria is a result of a particular political climate that is the byproduct of the BJP-led regime in the Centre, and its obsession with the cow at the cost of the fundamental right to religion, dietary practices, gastronomic freedom, etc.
Moreover, the resurrection of the outlawed Section 5D of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act would mean the beef lynchings would now get official sanction from the police force, pushing the minority community within the state and else into further spheres of insecurity.
As a former vice-president of India Hamid Ansari has recently said, there’s a sense of unease among Indian Muslims and the climate of insecurity has been exacerbated by retrograde legislations such as the now stayed effective cow slaughter ban restricting trade in animal markets.
That had the potential of accruing a revenue loss worth Rs one lakh crore, given India is the world’s second largest beef exporter. Since the majority of the livestock is held by small and landless farmers, the legislation would have proved to be a death knell on Indian farmers and the agricultural sector.
Diminishing civil liberties
The Maharashtra state government’s demand to resurrect a draconian law – a clause that never should have been put in in the first place – is, however, one more indication of the general trend of shrinking civil liberties and the State encroaching into the citizens’ bedrooms, kitchen, drawing rooms and other private spaces.
The raid and search order – in case upheld again – would make the beef hysteria the instrument of state oppression, and would easily be copied by other states, and perhaps even a central legislation would be soon attempted. Given the strengths, the BJP has in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha now, bringing in legislations to suit the narrow Hindutva worldview would prove to be a cakewalk.
Of course, the linking of the appeal to the privacy debate as well as the equation of beef with narcotic substances, make criminalisation of dietary choices almost complete. The Supreme Court must tread very cautiously while hearing this case. As for Maharashtra state government, the less said the better.