New Delhi, Oct. 26: After the ban on cow slaughter, states are now legally within their rights to prohibit the killing of bulls and bullocks.
It was not the only important question the Supreme Court settled today upholding the Gujarat government order banning slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks.
In the process, the court also pronounced its view on a question that some might consider more significant than a ban on bovine slaughter. It upheld the government’s power to impose “reasonable restrictions” ' a ban in this case ' on the fundamental right of conducting trade and commerce.
A ban on bovine slaughter can be expected to affect the leather industry, for instance, infringing upon the fundamental right of people engaged in it to make a livelihood. This was the argument Gujarat High Court had given while throwing out the ban earlier.
Right to trade and commerce and pursuit of an occupation is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution.
Setting aside the high court ruling and orders of three other smaller benches of the Supreme Court, a seven-judge constitution bench upheld the ban on cow, bull and bullock slaughter clamped by the then Congress government of Gujarat in 1994. Bovine slaughter below the age of 16 was not permitted in any case.
There was one dissenting judgment, but the upholding of the ban by implication means a similar ban by any other state government would be valid, too.
Although a cow slaughter ban exists in most states ' Bengal, Kerala and the Northeast being exceptions ' Gujarat is the only one that prohibited the killing of bulls and bullocks.
A five-judge Constitution bench had earlier struck down the ban holding that bulls and bullocks remained useful only till the age of 15 and slaughter for use as food, leather and for other economic activity could not be curtailed.
But the appeal of the Gujarat government that was heard by the bench was subsequently referred to the seven-judge bench on July 19 for interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution especially in regard to the status of the directive principles of state policy vis-a-vis fundamental rights as well the effect of introduction of Article 31A.
This constitutional provision paves the way for the governments to “acquire any estate” and the interpretation needed was whether trade and commerce ' in this case, the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks ' could be included in “estate”.
The judges said “reasonable restrictions” on any fundamental right could not be said to be “unreasonable” and “ultra vires” of the Constitution.
The interpretation overrules Gujarat High Court’s ruling that there could not be a total ban on slaughter as it infringed also upon another fundamental right, that of “right to life” by conducting trade and commerce.