Large numbers of India's population still eat beef and unproductive cattle are slaughtered for their meat (file photo)
The state government of Maharashtra has banned the slaughter of cows and the sale and consumption of beef. Anyone found breaking the law could face a fine and up to five years in prison.
President Pranab Mukherjee approved the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill that has taken 19 years to become law. It was first passed by the state's BJP-Shiv Sena government in 1995 and was sent to the president for approval in January 1996. When the BJP returned to power in the state last year it once again pushed for the bill to be signed into law.
"Thanks a lot honourable President sir for the assent on Maharashtra Animal Preservation Bill. Our dream of ban on cow-slaughter becomes reality now," Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis tweeted on Tuesday.
According to the BBC, the Maharashtra beef ban is the toughest so far in India - along with cows, it also forbids the killing of bulls and bullocks and even possessing beef, which will now be considered as contraband.
Unhappy beef traders in the state are checking if they can challenge the ban - they say the move will leave thousands jobless and push up the cost of other meat.
Although many Hindus consider cows sacred, large numbers of India's population still eat beef and unproductive cattle are slaughtered for their meat and other products.
Following the Maharashtra ban, there is concern over what will happen to bulls and bullocks or to cows too old to produce milk or to give birth.
Critics of the bill say their owners, mostly farmers, could now be stuck feeding them for years until they die of natural causes.
According to the BBC, beef is more popular with the poor as it is typically cheaper than other meats such as chicken or mutton.
But because of religious sentiments and bans in various states, most of India's beef is exported - with a 20% share of the global market and exports worth more than $4 billion a year, it is now the country's top agricultural export, beating the more famous basmati rice. India is the world’s second largest exporter of beef after Brazil.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who led the BJP party to a landslide win in last year's general election, has in the past complained about India's "pink revolution" of rising meat exports, and expressed hope of bringing in a national ban on cow slaughter.
Maharashtra’s ban generated strong reactions on social media, with the hashtag #BeefBan becoming a top trend on Twitter.
"Let me stick my neck out here and say something unpopular - I don't support #BeefBan. What people eat is NOT a priority for Hindutva," tweeted a user Hatuey.
"Where's the beef ? Mr. Phadnis (Fadnavis) and others, I am willing to face 5 years in jail to defend the right of beef eaters in Maharashtra," declared Mumbai writer Shobhaa De.