Mumbai meat ban raises key constitutional question

New Delhi: 13 Sep- Legal experts ask whether courts would consider a ban unreasonable only if it goes on for a “considerable period of time”.

Don’t short-duration bans, even if it is for two days, equally violate fundamental rights like the right to eat food of one’s choice, the right to be left alone and the right to practice one’s trade and business?

“Rights cannot be abridged even if it is for nine days or 48 hours. Curtailing my freedom to purchase even for 48 hours on the basis of a skewed administrative order is definitely an unreasonable restriction,” Supreme Court advocate Vrinda Grover said.

Conflicting views

The Supreme Court has for long struggled to strike a balance on meat bans, both long- and short-duration ones. It has over the decades given conflicting views from calling beef a “poor man’s protein food” and upholding the ban on meat, fish and eggs in Rishikesh on the grounds that a majority come there for “prayer and purification” to a 2008 judgment advising one not to be “over-touchy” about a nine-day meat ban in Gujarat during the Paryushan penance of the Jain community.

In the 2008 judgment in Hinsa Virodhak Sangh versus Mirzapur Moti Kuresh Jamat and Others, the Supreme Court concluded that the nine-day meat ban in Gujarat during Paryushan was a reasonable restriction.

It was this judgmentthe Maharashtra government banked on to justify its meat ban before the Bombay High Court on Friday.

The judgment authored by Justice (retired) Markandey Katju reasoned that the ban in Gujarat was not for a “considerable period” and “non-vegetarians can surely remain vegetarians for nine days in a year out of respect for the Jain festival”.

On the other hand, the judgment said the Supreme Court would have surely declared the meat ban an “excessive restriction” and struck it down had it been ordered by the Gujarat government for a considerable period and not just nine days.

It said a long-duration ban would have affected the livelihood of a large number of workmen in butcher shops and “non-vegetarians cannot be compelled to become vegetarians” for a considerable period of time.

But the judgment does not define what it means by “considerable period of time”. It does not explain how long a ban should go on for the court to declare it unconstitutional. Again, the judgment does not say how many days a ban can survive without being an insult to the Constitution. Incidentally, the same judgment observed in one of its paragraphs that “what one eats is one’s personal affair and it is a part of his right to privacy which is included in Article 21 of our Constitution”.

Keywords: Supreme Court, Mumbai meat ban