11 April 2023 3:22 PM GMT
Holding that right to safe food is a Fundamental Right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, the Gujarat High Court today observed that the right to free trade in food items like meat, or any such food has to be subserving to the public health and food safety requirements. The bench of Justice N. V Anjaria opined thus while disposing of a bunch of PIL Pleas filed by meat vendors...
Holding that right to safe food is a Fundamental Right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, the Gujarat High Court today observed that the right to free trade in food items like meat, or any such food has to be subserving to the public health and food safety requirements.
The bench of Justice N. V Anjaria opined thus while disposing of a bunch of PIL Pleas filed by meat vendors and associations in Gujarat challenging the closing of their establishments/shops by official authorities on account of not complying with food safety laws, selling meat in unhygienic conditions or through unlicensed shops.
In its order, the High Court also said that the consumers of any food including meat and meat products have a right to have safe food and that the right to food with hygiene is also concomitant to Article 21 of the Constitution, as the right to the food itself is.
In this view of the matter, the Court added, the meat vendors can not insist on doing business even if the meat is unstamped meat or the slaughterhouse is not licensed or the norms compliant.
"Article 21 would also envelope in it a right to safe food. Right to ensure such safe food is also an obligation on the State authorities, which they discharge by implementing and enforcing the food safety norms and other regulatory measures prescribed in the different statutes...The licensing of the meat shop or the slaughter house and ensuring the hygienic operation of such premises and places, go long way to food safety" the Court remarked.
Further, the Court observed that all the meat shops and slaughterhouses that have been closed by the authorities for the reason that they have failed to comply with the licensing and regulatory norms, food and safety standards, pollution control requirements, and for any such other legal considerations including non-observance of hygiene imperatives, COULD NOT be permitted to be reopened unless they become fully compliant of such norms and regulations.
"The freedom to trade or right to do business have to yield the public health norms and the restrictive compulsions needed to be enforced in larger public good. The right to free trade in food items like meat, or any such food has to be subserving to public health and food safety requirements," the bench remarked.
The Court noted that the Right to freedom of trade may be a fundamental right, but not a carte blanche and that the meat sellers/slaughterhouses have to comply with the the provisions of Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, and the Food Safety Regulations as these laws are enacted and operate in the public good and public interest.
The Court also noted that the above laws and other laws seeking to fulfill the purpose of insulating the animals from cruelty and cruel acts, pollution, and environmental laws are all limiting factors, which will operate as reasonable restrictions on the right of the vendors of the meat and slaughterhouse owners to run their business.
Importantly, the Court specifically observed that the meat sellers can also not be permitted to assert unrestricted freedom to do business in meat or to run slaughterhouses on the ground of religious occasions when they are otherwise non-compliant with the norms in law.
Against this backdrop, the Court refused to intervene in the PIL pleas.
However, the Court gave the liberty to meat shop owners, meat vendors, and slaughterhouse owners whose establishments have been closed, to approach the competent authority or competent committee by showing that it has ensured compliance of all the laws and regulations as may be applicable and they would be allowed to reopen shops or slaughterhouses subject to the satisfaction of the official authorities.
The background of the case
The Gujarat High Court had, in a PIL plea seeking a ban on illegal and unlicenced slaughterhouses and meat shops in the state, earlier directed the civic body authorities to act against such shops, meat sellers, and slaughterhouses who are operating in violation of statutory laws.
Following the order of the HC, the civic body authorities had sealed and ordered for closure of such shops affecting meat vendors, shop associations, and owners prompting them to move to the HC as a party in the PIL plea as being aggrieved parties.
Essentially, 21 applicants prayed for passing an order to open the seal of chicken meat shops in the city of Surat. Some other pleas were also moved seeking similar directions for reopening the premises or shops or slaughterhouses of the members of the applicant association engaged in the slaughtering of small animals such as goats and sheep and further to permit to sell the mutton
Some petitioners prayed that if unstamped meat is sold at some shops, it is the failure of the Stand and authorities of the State in discharging statutory duties of providing slaughterhouse. It was also submitted that therefore, no fault could be found with the persons engaged in slaughtering the animals and selling meat.
According to them, there was no proper mechanism to take care of the meats, and for running the business of meat selling.
Importantly, it was their uniform argument that the closure of meat shops was illegal and amounts to deprivation and curtailment of their right to free trade under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. It was also submitted that the month of Ramadan is underway, therefore, the State should liberally act to redress the grievance of the applicants to permit them to sell the meat by allowing the opening of the shops.
However, rejecting their arguments, the Court in no uncertain terms held that for such shops to continue running, they have to comply with the applicable laws.
Case title - Patel Dharmeshbhai Naranbhai vs Dharmendrabhai Pravinbhai Fofani
Case Citation: 2023 Livelaw (Guj) 70
Click Here To Read/Download Order