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Accidental possession of beef not a crime: Mumbai High Court

Mumbai High Court decriminalises possession of beef adds a caveat
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Upholding the ban on the slaughter of bulls and bullocks imposed by BJP-led Government in Maharashtra, Bombay High Court today decriminalised possession of beef where animals are slaughtered outside the state.


It struck down as "unconstitutional" provisions which held mere possession of beef as crime, saying only "conscious possession" of the meat of animals slaughtered in the state will be held as an offence.


A division bench of Justices A S Oka and S C Gupte struck down sections 5(d) and 9 (b) of the Maharashtra Animals Preservation (Amendment) Act, which criminalised and imposed punishment on persons found in possession of beef of animals, slaughtered in the state or outside, saying it infringes upon a person's Right to Privacy.


"Section 5(c) of the Act which criminalised mere possession of beef has been read down to conscious possession of the beef. If a person from whom beef has been found did not have prior knowledge of the meat, then he cannot be prosecuted. Only conscious possession can be held as an offence," the court said.


Under the Act of 1976, there was a ban on cow slaughter and possession and consumption of their meat. However, in 2015, the ban on the slaughter of bulls and bullocks was also included in the Act by an amendment.


With the HC ruling, the burden of proving innocence will not be on individuals and the onus to prove that the law was violated lies on the prosecution.


The order came on a  bunch of petitions filed in the High Court challenging the constitutional validity of the Act and in particular, possession and consumption of beef from animals slaughtered outside Maharashtra.


"We are upholding the constitutional validity of the provisions of the Act which bans the slaughter of bulls and bullocks. They are valid and legal," the court said.


"However, section 5(d) of the Act which criminalises possession of beef infringes upon a person's Right to Privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and hence is
liable to be struck down. Similarly, section 9(b) which imposes penal action for possession also has to be struck down," Justice Oka said.


The court while striking down the two sections - 5(d) and 9(b) - said it was "unconstitutional". 


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