Thursday, June 30, 2022

Meat Masala

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While some states have banned the sale of beef, courts are unable to tell the difference between different kinds of meat and are using dubious evidence to settle disputes

By  Vipin Pubby in Chandigarh

Even as most of states have banned cow slaughter and the sale of beef, courts are finding it difficult to differentiate between beef and other meat. This is due to the lack of testing facilities. The fallout has been a large number of acquittals.

The Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan Act, 2015, bans cow slaughter and anyone indulging in it will get rigorous punishment ranging from three to 10 years and a fine up to ` 1 lakh. It bans the sale of beef and beef products except for medical purposes and any contravention of the law provides for a term which is not less than three years and may extend up to five years with a fine not less than ` 30,000 extending up to ` 50,000.

This makes it one of the most stringent laws on the issue in the country. The definition of “cow” under the new law includes bull, bullock, ox, heifer or calf, as well as those which are disabled, diseased or barren. It also includes the flesh of the animal that is packed in sealed containers and which has been imported into the state. It further says that “anyone seeking to send cows out of the state must apply for a permit to the government, stating the reasons and numbers of export, and the destination state, as well as a declaration saying that the cows would not be slaughtered”. It also provides that “permits shall not be issued for exports to a state where cow slaughter is not banned”.

Evidently aware of the limitations of the courts in differentiating beef from other meat, the Act has provisions for establishing laboratories for the same. In the absence of such facilities, the courts have been taking “expert” opinions from veterinarians or consulting the internet on the color and texture of the seized meat.

The High Court of Punjab and Haryana has often found itself in a piquant situation where it had to decide appeals against convictions by lower courts in the absence of authentic information because of a lack of testing facilities. In the recent past, at least two judges have quoted from their internet searches to check for differences in cow meat with that of buffalo and other animals to decide cases under the Punjab Prohibition of Cow Slaughter Act, 1955. This Act restricts export of cows from one state to the other for slaughtering, and was enforced before the new law came in.

The Act also provided for exceptions, including permission from authorities concerned, for such export. However, a problem arose when the accused disputed the charge that he was in possession of cow meat. The only exception where acquittal was denied was where the accused was found with the head or skin of a cow which established the identity of the animal.

While dealing with one such case recently, Justice Mahesh Grover of the Punjab and Haryana High Court quoted from internet searches to conclude that beef was bright to dark red and had white- or cream-colored fat. The search pointed out that goat meat was light to dark red and had chalk-white fat while pork was grey-pink and had red-white fat. Acquitting an accused in a case in April, he observed that “formulating a conclusion on the bare visual examination of meat products to establish it to be beef and to form basis of conviction would be erroneous”. The accused was convicted by a lower court for carrying 25 kg of beef. The conviction was based on testimony given by some veterinarians that the seized meat resembled beef. The veterinary surgeons, who were quoted as “experts”, had evidently gone by the visual of the seized meat in the absence of laboratory tests. The accused, on the other hand, had taken the plea that it was not beef as the fat was not cream or white in color.

Dharam Raksha Manch,a umbrella body of 50 Hindu organisaton, to protest against "cow Salughter" at Nerwa,in Chopal Sub-division of Shimla..  photo by Amit Kanwar
People protesting against cow slaughter

In another similar case, Justice Alok Singh looked up the internet to find that the fat around the edges of beef should be “white to ivory” in color. He quoted from the search to say that “beef fat should be creamy and not yellow in colour” and that beef should be “deep in colour”.

Last month, in the wake of violence, the central government announced that it would set up laboratories at major ports to test for illegal export of cow meat. Export of buffalo meat is allowed but it is difficult to differentiate it from cow meat due to its similar texture and color.

Union Minister of State Sanjeev Kumar Balyan said the laboratories would add an extra level of checks for illegal exports of beef. Despite the ban in most states on the slaughter of cows, India is the top exporter of beef mainly due to buffalo meat exports. As per exporters, India is expected to export 2.4 million tons of beef this year.

Rajesh Lamba, who has been dealing with cases pertaining to cow slaughter and beef in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, says that due to lack of laboratories, the courts were depending on veterinary surgeons who are not trained for the purpose and only hazard “wild guesses” based on their experience and color of the meat. He said that if the law, including the new Act in Haryana, is to be enforced, the government would have to set up a large number of laboratories with facilities for preservation of samples and quick analysis.
That seems like a Herculean task.

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