Last year the government of Maharashtra, home to India’s commercial centre Mumbai, made the sale or possession of beef an offence punishable by a five-year jail term or a 10,000-rupee ($150) fine.
It was one of the strictest such laws in India, where several states ban the slaughter of cows, considered sacred by the Hindu majority.
However the Bombay High Court, Mumbai’s top court, ruled Friday that it was no longer illegal to possess or eat beef, as long as it had been brought into Maharashtra from outside the state.
But it upheld the part of the law, introduced in March 2015, that had extended a 1976 ban on slaughtering cows to cover bulls and bullocks, according to the ruling published on the court’s website.
“The court has struck down that provision which says that the consumption of beef is illegal in Maharashtra,” Harish Jagtiani, a prominent lawyer told AFP.
Harish was one of several petitioners who had asked the court to overturn the ban on consumption, saying that it infringed upon their right to privacy as protected in India’s constitution.
“They’ve struck down the provision that bans the import of beef into Maharashtra for the purpose of consumption and trade. Those bans have been declared to be unconstitutional,” he added.
Restaurants will now be allowed to sell imported beef again, Jagtiani said, adding that the court had ruled in favour of people’s right to eat the food they want, “wherever they want”.
“We’re thrilled. It’s a total vindication,” he said.
Right-wing Hindu groups in India have long demanded a complete ban on the slaughter of all cattle, citing religious scriptures.
They celebrated last year when Maharashtra, governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in alliance with the far-right Shiv Sena party, toughened its laws.
Maharashtra’s chief minister Devendra Fadnavis tweeted at the time that “our dream of ban on cow slaughter becomes a reality now”.
Muslims, the country’s largest religious minority and the main players in India’s beef industry, claimed the law unfairly targeted them.
While the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks remains illegal in Maharashtra, the slaughtering of water buffalo remains permissible.
Friday’s ruling, which came after the court heard a number of petitions against the legal amendment, made no concessions to those in the slaughter trade.
The decision caught the attention of social media with opinion predictably divided on Twitter.
“Best news I’ve heard in a while — #beef partially back in Bombay,” wrote Nakalu Naneeto.
“So you can’t slaughter a cow in Maharashtra, but you can do it outside and eat it here? And no one finds this hypocritical or absurd?” posted Lindsay Pereira.