In a significant ruling, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court, last week held that mere possession of a dead animal's skin would not amount to an offence under the Maharashtra Preservation of Animals (MPA) Act, which prohibits slaughtering, importing, exporting and even possessing beef. The HC also held that even if any notification or circular prohibits possession of skin still the person intercepted with skin of a dead animal cannot be prosecuted since the circulars do not have any 'statutory force.'
A bench of Justices V M Deshpande and Anil Kilor said that the MPA act only prohibits possession of flesh and not skin.
"The flesh is the soft substance, consisting of muscle and fat, that is found between the skin and bones of a human or an animal. The main difference between ‘skin’ and ‘flesh’ is that the ‘skin’ is a soft outer covering organ of vertebrates and the ‘flesh’ is a soft substance of an animal body that consists of muscle and fat," the judges noted.
"Having considered the difference between ‘skin’ and ‘flesh’ it cannot be said that the word ‘flesh’ used under Section 5-(C) of the MPA Act, covers the skin of animals. The legislature has expressed its intention through the word ‘flesh’ and therefore, the said word needs to be interpreted accordingly, as per the intention of the legislature," the judges held.
The important order was pronounced on a plea filed by a 28-year-old man, who petitioned the bench to quash the FIR registered against him for possessing over 180 skins of dead cows and bulls.
"There is no doubt that the skin is not covered under the provisions of the MPA act and thus, there is no prohibition for the possession of skin of dead animals and in absence of such prohibition, we have of a convinced view that no offence under the provisions of the said act attracts," the judges held.
The bench further added, "Moreover, in absence of any statutory provision, which prohibits possession of skin of a dead animal, even if, any circular or notification or order has been issued by the state government, prohibiting possession of skin, such circular, notification or order which has no statutory force will not prevail over the provisions of the statute."
Accordingly, the judges held that the allegations against the applicant man were that he was carrying 187 skins of cows in his van. "There are no allegations that the applicant was transporting or exporting cow, bull or bullock for the purpose of slaughter in contravention of provision of the Act, 1976. There are also no allegations that the applicant purchased or sold or otherwise disposed of or offered to purchase or sell or dispose of cow, bull or bullock for slaughter. Thus, no offence constitutes against the applicant," the bench said while quashing the FIR.