Mumbai, Sep 14: The Bombay High Court on Monday stayed the controversial ban on sale of meat in Mumbai on September 17 in connection with the Jain community's fasting season Paryushan, asking why the restriction is only on mutton and chicken and not on fish and eggs.
"If it is a question of practice of non-violence by the Jain community, then why only mutton and chicken have been included in the ban and not fish and eggs?" the court asked the ban, an issue which has kicked up a political storm with questions being raised on intrusion into eating habits of people.
As the matter reached the High Court with the city meat sellers's body challenging it, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) had last week dropped the two-day ban it imposed, apart from the two days of ban on slaughter and sale of mutton and chicken clamped by the state Government.
The High Court, however, refused to intervene on the issue of ban on slaugther and closure of abattoirs on the day in question and made it clear that the stay will be limited to Mumbai alone though a similar measure has been imposed in the adjoining Mira-Bhayander and Navi Mumbai towns.
A division bench of Justices Anoop V Mohta and Amjad Sayyed in their order also noted that that though the Maharashtra government had issued a circular as back as in 2004 banning meat sale for two days it was never implemented "in its true sense."
The court, which had taken a sharply critical view of the issue right from the start and made some stinging remarks during the hearing, said there had been inconsistency in the stands of MCGM and the state government.
The state government had on September 7, 2004, issued a circular stating that for two days during the 'Paryushan' festival there will be closure of abattoirs and ban on slaughter and sale of meat.
"Although the circular was of 2004, we are very clear that the MCGM never fully implemented the ban on sale of meat. It never insisted on this (ban on sale of meat), but only insisted on closure of abattoirs," the court said.
"We are only going by the law and not dealing with this matter via sentiments and political things," the judges further observed. The court posted the petition for final hearing after four weeks.
While MCGM announced ban on sale of meet and closure of abattoirs for September 13 and 18 the state government had banned it further for September 10 and 17. The civic body, however, withdrew the ban last week through a resolution adopted by an emergency meeting of its elected council and informed the High Court of its decision.
Barring the BJP, major parties including Shiv Sena, which is the dominant ruling partner in the MCGM, had opposed the ban. The Sena as well as Maharashtra Navnirmal Sena (MNS) hit the street on September 10 defying the ban.
The court, while staying the ban on sale of meat, also questioned as to why the Jain community wants to practice non-violence only on some days.
"You (Jains) do not have a problem if slaughter of animals is done on some days. If ahimsa (non-violence) is on your mind, then why this alternate day permission?" the court asked.
The bench also said the government should inform public in advance about such decisions. "At the eleventh hour people come to know and it creates complications. Sudden imposition, especially on eating habits is not correct."
The court, while admitting the petition, said it was going to frame certain issues that will have to be considered during final hearing of the matter.
The issues include whether a mere representation of a religious group practising vegetarianism is sufficient to declare ban on sale of meat and closure of abattoirs, whether before declaring such bans opportunity and hearing needs to be given to concerned parties, whether such action amounts to discrimination between religions and whether sentiments of a particular community practising non-violence can be restricted only to slaughter of meat and not to fish and eggs.
The court will also consider if such a ban is correct in a metropolitan or cosmopolitan city and if it amounts to violation of the fundamental rights of people and if one religion can be given preference over others.