Chennai: The legal battle over the beef ban in Maharashtra has now reached the Supreme Court with the Maharashtra government insisting that the stringent law passed in 2015 prevails. The Maharashtra government has appealed against the Bombay High Court's decision to allow residents to store and consume beef brought from outside the state, and is arguing its case in the top court seeking to reinstate the sections the Bombay High Court found unconstitutional.
"If possession of beef is not made a crime, the law loses its teeth. This is a very good law made by the Maharashtra legislature," BJP leader Rajeev Panday said.
The law originally allowed police to search and enter the home of a person suspected of keeping beef or buffalo meat which has been slaughtered outside Maharashtra. Activists had called the law draconian.
"I feel that the Bombay High Court in a historic ruling has really given valid reasons as to how and on what basis these kind of amendments, with caveats attached to that, are unconstitutional," Senior Advocate at Bombay High Court Sujay Kantawala told NDTV.
Carrying beef from outside the state and consuming it was allowed by the Bombay High Court after it heard arguments when the law was challenged following the President's assent. However, the ban on slaughter was upheld.
The new law, passed soon after the Fadnavis government came to power, also put the burden on the accused to prove innocence. The court struck that down too.
If the Supreme Court upholds the Bombay High Court's order, then people in Maharashtra will be able to store and consume beef brought from outside the state where slaughter is legal but if the order is overturned, then people face up to five years in jail even for keeping meat.
"Now it's up to the Supreme Court to decide. The nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court in its historical sitting is considering what is right of privacy linked with your liberties as guaranteed in the Constitution. So the Bombay High Court found in its wisdom that this was a very dangerous kind of a precedent which would be set," Mr Kantawala said.
Budget restaurants that sold beef for years have moved to buffalo meat. Abdul Rauf, who has run a restaurant for many years, said he is ready for any outcome. "If the government allows, everyone will eat beef. Or else don't eat anything. We won't die if we don't eat mutton or even fish. Let them come and check here. It doesn't matter to us. We are following the law," Mr Rauf told NDTV.
Opposition parties say the government wants to divert attention from key issues after a rough assembly session. "The direction in which the BJP government wants to take this country is clear. I think it is completely unconstitutional for the government to decide what people should eat and what people should not eat," former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said. "The spirit of the Constitution should be upheld. The high court has interpreted the Constitution very clearly," Mr Chavan said.
Nationalist Congress Party leader Nawab Mailk told NDTV, "To divert the attention of the people, they are just using beef and other issues."