The Delhi government on Wednesday defended a law that criminalises possessing and eating beef in the city, PTI reported. In the Delhi High Court, the administration said it was obligated under the Constitution to protect cows and other milch and draught animals from slaughter.

The Department of Animal Husbandry of Delhi filed an affidavit before a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar in response to a Public Interest Litigation against the Delhi Agricultural Cattle Preservation Act. The bench scheduled the next hearing for May 16.

The plea, filed by law student Gaurav Jain and an NGO that works for people from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, claimed that the act was “a case of legislative overreach”. The petitioners claimed that criminalising possessing and consuming beef infringed upon people’s fundamental rights.

“The right to eat the food of one’s choice is an integral part of the right to life and liberty,” the plea said. “The Constitution mandates the state to not make law towards enforcement of a particular religious practice.”

The petitioners also said that members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes “often have a diet containing meats” and are directly affected by the act.