Goats in courts: BMC doesn’t find them funny

Throughout 156 years of its hoary existence, the Bombay high court was never faced with a situation where the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) allowed a lawyer to slaughter four goats inside the court room of the chief justice. Hence, the petitioners who wanted a ban on slaughter of goats and sheep outside the licensed abattoir of Deonar, succeeded in creating a sensation to prove to the high court that the BMC’s method of granting online permissions to slaughter goats was farcical.

An aloof and erudite justice Vijaya Kapse Tahilramani, who was earlier the acting chief justice of the high court, would have been nonplussed if she was told that a lawyer was allowed to slaughter goats inside her court room. But she has been transferred to the Madras high court as its chief justice. Sixty-one year old justice Naresh Chandra Patil who has replaced her may have been equally nonplussed to handle this hilarious episode.

The BMC also allowed another applicant to slaughter goats within the very court room (court room 13) of the high court which was hearing a petition challenging the online method of granting permission to slaughter sheep and goats during Bakri Eid which is known as the “Festival of Sacrifice”, the second of two Islamic  holidays celebrated all over the world each year.

But to return to the BMC’s gaffe, the Jeev Maitri Trust demonstrated in one masterstroke that the corporation does not verify online applications to grant permission to slaughter goats and sheep. The legal route would have been for the BMC commissioner to file an affidavit giving details of online permission to slaughter goats and sheep in private homes and on footpaths. This would have been argued at length in the high court before stony-faced judges and lawyers.

And so, an ingenious counsel Sujay Kantiwalla created a sensation when he told Justices Abhay Oka and Riyaz Chagla that a lawyer had been granted permission to slaughter goats inside the chief justice’s court room. To make the situation even more hilarious, the judges stated in their order that the BMC granted permission to “one Neil Armstrong to slaughter five goats in Court Room No 13 of this Court”.

“One more permission has been granted to one Shaun Vaz to slaughter five goats in Room No 13 of this Court. Thus the documents show that without any verification and without any application of mind, these permissions have been granted by the BMC on the basis of the online applications,” the judges stated in their order.

The judges were forced to conclude the BMC had adopted a “ridiculous system” of granting online permission to purchase and slaughter sheep or goats outside the Deonar abattoir, which as per law, is the only licensed abattoir to dispose off the goats’ stinking entrails and offal.

The judges confirmed in their order that some lawyers were allowed to slaughter goats inside their chambers located in posh locations such as the eighth floor of Arcadia building at Nariman Point and also in Raj Bahadur building, in the vicinity of the high court itself. The BMC counsel was left red-faced.

But not daunted by being made to look ridiculous in the national media by granting online permission to lawyers and people like “Neil Armstrong” who was the first astronaut to walk on the moon in 1969 but died exactly six years ago, the BMC declared subsequently in its affidavit that it wanted to “simplify the process of granting permission” to slaughter goats during Bakri Eid and it was introduced with “good intentions”.

The BMC said granting of online permission was meant to track how many persons applied to slaughter goats and the places they would use for the slaughter. It said nearly 30,000 goats had been taken out of the Deonar abattoir on August 22 this year for slaughter in private places and elsewhere.

On a more serious note, the law point to be decided is whether slaughter of goats violates the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughter House) Rules, 2001 which states no person will be allowed to slaughter any animal within a municipal area, except in a licensed slaughter house.

The issue involves the right to practice one’s religion because the words Bakri Eid itself means “sheep” or a “goat” and is celebrated throughout the Islamic world where millions of goats and sheep are slaughtered to commemorate the obedience of Prophet Abraham to Allah when ordered to sacrifice his only son. When he obeyed, Abraham’s son was replaced by a goat which is why the festival is commemorated every year. Never mind the millions of goats who bleat pitifully as their throats are cruelly slashed.

While some scholars assert that sacrificing goats during Bakri Eid is a vital tenet of Islam, others state this is part of the sunnah which forms “all the traditions and practices” of Islam and is not binding or mandatory on devout Muslims. They point to the late President APJ Abdul Kalam who turned vegetarian when he joined St Joseph’s College in Tiruchirapalli in 1950.

But to return to the high court, when the judges were told that the BMC had granted permission to applicants to slaughter five goats inside the court room of the chief justice (court room 52 located on the second floor), they remarked: “This is shocking, who is going to supervise this? How can online permissions be so casually granted. Is it not ridiculous that someone has been granted permission to slaughter goats inside room no 13?”

The judges asked the BMC counsel to contact the Municipal Commissioner, Ajoy Mehta, to ask him if he would stop the online system. The court was then told that the e-permission would be blocked immediately. Later, the bench observed that despite being directed to study the entire matter in-depth, Mehta did not do very much.

And so we arrive at a situation when the courts, the media and the lawyers ensure that freedom of speech and freedom of the media ensure the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion is equally important as freedom from religion when that religion adheres to obsolete traditions in a modern society.

Olav Albuqerque holds a PhD in law and is a journalist-cum-lawyer of the Bombay High Court.

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