Monday, February 26, 2024

Calcutta High Court to hear plea regarding sacrifice of animals for temple festivals in West Bengal

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“As observed by us earlier, a long-term solution has to be brought about as there is no specific statute in the State of West Bengal banning sacrifice of animals either as a mass sacrifice or for temple festivals.”

The Calcutta High Court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed seeking direction upon the respondent authorities to forthwith ensure that no illegal slaughter of any animal takes place in the State of West Bengal (either in the name of god or otherwise and that no animal slaughter takes place in West Bengal for any purpose apart from serving of food to mankind.

The petitioners also seek a direction upon the respondent authorities to ensure strict compliance of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, Transport of Animal Rules, 1978, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughterhouse) Rules, 2000 and West Bengal Animal Slaughter Control Act, 1950. The interim orders have also been sought for on the same lines.

What prompted the petitioners to approach the Court at this juncture is on account of a programme organised by the Bolla Kali Mata Temple in Dakshin Dinajpur district called as Bolla Kali Mata Puja Committee. The petitioners’ case is that it has been claimed by the temple committee that more that 10,000 goats will be sacrificed in the open broad day light and during the night time and this cannot be permitted to be done by the State authorities and appropriate action should be taken to ban the entire programme.

Firstly, the division bench of Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam and Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharya noted that petition has been moved on 30.11.23 and it has been listed on 01.12.23 and the programme to be conducted by the temple committee is scheduled to take place 01.12.23 . Therefore, at this end hour, no effective direction for interim orders can be passed and even assuming such orders are passed, the same cannot be implemented effectively. However, considering the larger relief sought for by the petitioners, the Court inclined to entertain the petition.

So far as the interim orders are concerned, the Bench noted the submission of the advocate for the petitioners, who have referred to various rules and in particular, the decision of the Supreme Court in Lakshmi Narain Modi v. Union of India & Ors. reported in (2013) 10 SCC 227. In the said decision, various directives were given by the Supreme Court, some of which are

1) animals not to be slaughtered except in recognised or licensed houses;

2) no person shall slaughter any animal within a municipal area except in a slaughterhouse recognised or licensed by the authority concerned empowered under the law for the time being in force to do so;

3) no animal, which is pregnant, or has an offspring less than three months old, or is under the age of three months or has not been certified by a veterinary doctor that it is in a fit condition to be slaughtered, shall be slaughtered and;

4)no animal shall be slaughtered in a slaughterhouse in sight of other animals.

Advocate for the petitioners submitted that there are several decisions of the Supreme Court, which have emphasised these aspects and the programme, which is to be conducted by the said temple committee today is in clear derogation of the directions issued by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The position, which is prevailing in the other States in India was also referred to and relied upon.

The Government of Kerala enacted a legislation prohibiting sacrifice of all animals and birds in temples, Constitutional validity of which was challenged before the High Court of Kerala and the State enactment was upheld and the matter is now pending before the Supreme Court.

As the Court noted from the conditions imposed, which obviously, have been agreed to by the members of the temple committee, they have to abide by the decision of the Supreme Court and the Court setting down guidelines. However, there is a clear bar for mass sacrifice during the puja. It is true, that the temple committee has not been impleaded as a party to the petition. Nonetheless, the committee members having agreed to the various conditions, which have been imposed by the district administration, are bound to follow the same in its letter and spirit. The Court is conscious of the fact that the festival has already began and at this juncture no positive direction can be given and even assuming such directions are given, they may become unworkable.

However, taking note of the fact that the members of the committee of the concerned temple have unequivocally agreed to the conditions, which have been reduced into writing in the minutes recorded by the Sub-Divisional Officer, Balurghat, Dakshin Dinajpur and also signed by all the committee members, district administration shall endeavour to take effective steps to ensure compliance of those conditions.

“The district administration shall inform the committee members that the conditions, which have been imposed during the meeting, which was convened are not an empty formality but it is a responsibility of the members of the temple committee/puja committee to ensure that the conditions are followed in its letter and spirit. At this juncture this is what we can observe and leave it to the authorities to ensure that the conditions imposed on the puja committee are strictly implemented”, the Court ordered.

As observed earlier, since the petitioners seek for a larger relief, the Bench directed the respondents to file their affidavits within eight weeks; reply, thereto, if any, may be filed within four weeks thereafter. The organisation, which seeks to intervene in the matter is at liberty to do so by filing an appropriate application. The Court listed the matter on 25th March, 2023.

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