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The Supreme Court sought the Maharashtra government’s response on petitions contending that the ban on slaughtering of cattle in the state and sale of beef impinged on the right of people to choose their food and adversely affected vulnerable sections of society and small farmers.
The bench of Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud issued notice on petitions by Jamat-ul-Quresh Minority Association, Ekta Foundation, a group of 30 individuals and some slaughter houses.
Senior counsel Indira Jaisig addressed the court on the contentions by the petitioners.
The court was told that “the right to consume food of one’s choice is part of the right to food under Article 21, since food habits are formed over centuries and the right to conserve food cultures is part of Article 21”.
“..no person can be compelled to eat what he or she does not wish to eat as an alternative source of food, since the right to eat food of one’s choice is part of the fundamental right to life guaranteed under Article 21”, the petition said.
The petitioners have challenged the May 6, 2016 judgment of Bombay High Court, which while upholding the ban imposed by the state government, allowed the consumption and possession of beef brought from states that allow slaughter of cattle.
Assailing the part of the High Court judgment by which it upheld the ban on the slaughter of cattle, the petitioners have contended that it violated the right of a large proportion of the citizens of Maharashtra to most inexpensive and healthy form of protein available to them.
It said that those who consume beef as part of their regular food come from the “lower socio-economic strata of society, are predominantly members of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Muslim community,..”
The petition said the ban has had “undesirable consequences of vigilantism” by members of the public resulting in loss of life and dignity of the vulnerable sections of society at the hands of “those claiming to protect the cow (and its progeny) in furtherance of the ban”.
It also pointed to the adverse effect of the ban on the small farmers who are now burdened with the responsibility of the upkeep of useless cattle.
The top court had on August 17 issued notice to the Maharashtra government on a petition by Akhil Bharat Krishi Go Sewa Sangh challenging the part of the Bombay High Court order permitting consumption and possession of beef brought from states that allow slaughter of cattle.
The Go Sewa Sangh questioned the High Court judgment that held that the right to eat was a fundamental right forming a part of right to privacy and sought declaration that the possession and consumption of beef in Maharashtra be declared a criminal offence.