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SCOI Report: Meat-ban case will depend on yet-to-be constituted right to privacy Constitution bench

The Supreme Court bench comprising justices TS Thakur and Kurian Joseph, in their order first granted permission to file the SLP in the appeal against Bombay high court order staying the Maharashtra government’s ban on sale of meat on some days of Paryurshan, an annual holy festival of Jain community. The ban was to be effective on September 10 and 17.

Case: Shree Tapagachiya Atma Kamal Labhdisu Riswarji Gyanmandir Trust vs Bombay Mutton Dealer Association and others

However, the petitioner’s counsel Dr Manish Singhvi, sensing the mood of the bench against the vacation of stay, sought leave to withdraw the SLP reserving liberty to approach the High Court for an early hearing and disposal of the matter pending before it. Thereupon, the bench dismissed the SLP as withdrawn with the liberty prayed for.

Despite the oral observations of the bench that the petitioners should display tolerance towards the sale of meat on the festival days, the bench, in its order, made it clear that it had expressed no final opinion on the merits of the contentions raised. The bench asked the Bombay high court to make an endeavour to dispose of the case as far as possible within a period of six months, if the petitioner approaches it for an early hearing of the case.

The Supreme Court’s deadline of six months for the disposal by the High Court is significant, as the ban on sale of meat in Bombay during Paryurshan is likely to be considered by the authorities next year also, as in 2014 (which went unchallenged) and this year. Therefore, an early disposal of the case by the High Court would help the losing party to approach the Supreme Court for relief. The petitioner before the Supreme Court is not a party before the High Court as of now, but join the case as an intervenor.

In its interim order staying the ban on sale of meat, the Bombay high court had held that merely to appease one section of the society, the personal dietary choices of the public at large should not be affected. ‘What one eats is his own business and it cannot extend to what others eat”, as it put it.

The ratio of the Supreme Court in Hinsa Virodhak Sangh decided on 14 March 2008 is likely to be the clinching factor in the outcome of the case, as both the parties have relied on this judgment to buttress their respective positions.

In its interim order, the Bombay high court has held that the judgment in Hinsa Virodhak Sangh must be read as applicable to the particular facts of the case, and that a case is only an authority for what it actually decides. In Hinsa Virodhak Sangh, the closure of the slaughter house during Paryushan in Ahmedabad was challenged.

The Supreme Court upheld the closure because it was done out of respect for the sentiments of Jain community, which has a large population in Gujarat, and it was consistently observed for a very long time, at least from 1993 and probably for a longer period. Unlike Ahmedabad, the Bombay ban not only covered slaughter houses, but the sale of meat. Therefore, the Bombay high court relied on Hinsa Virodhak Sangh, which had held that what one eats is one’s personal affair and it is part of his right to privacy which is included in Article 21 of our Constitution, as held by several decisions of the Supreme Court.

Interestingly, this very same decision has been challenged in the Aadhaar case, which has now been ordered to be referred to a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court after several days of hearing recently. The CJI is yet to constitute the bench for the purpose.

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