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No Prima-Facie Reason To Exclude Meat & Chicken From Mid-Day Meals : Kerala High Court Stays Lakshadweep Administration's Order

Hannah M Varghese
23 Jun 2021 4:00 AM GMT
No Prima-Facie Reason To Exclude Meat & Chicken From Mid-Day Meals : Kerala High Court Stays Lakshadweep Administrations Order
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"We are unable to understand how there could be a change in the menu of food-items given to the children, prepared taking into account, the vital aspect of health factor", HC observed.

The Kerala High Court on Tuesday said that it was unable to understand why the food menu of school children was changed by the Lakshadweep administration by removing chicken and meat from mid-day meals.A division bench was considering a PIL filed by a lawyer from Lakshadweep, which challenged, among other things, the removal of non-vegetarian items from the food menu of school children."...we...

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The Kerala High Court on Tuesday said that it was unable to understand why the food menu of school children was changed by the Lakshadweep administration by removing chicken and meat from mid-day meals.
A division bench was considering a PIL filed by a lawyer from Lakshadweep, which challenged, among other things, the removal of non-vegetarian items from the food menu of school children.
"...we are unable to understand how there could be a change in the menu of food-items given to the children, prepared taking into account, the vital aspect of health factor", observed a division bench comprising Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly.

The petition filed by Adv. Ajmal Ahmed. R, sought to quash the controversial orders passed by the administration under the new administrator Praful Khoda Patel contending that they were passed in arbitrary and blatant violation of principles of natural justice. It was alleged in the petition that these orders were thereby illegal and unsustainable in law.

Advocate Peeyus A. Kottam had appeared for the petitioner arguing that inhabitants of Lakshadweep engaged mostly in Government activities to eke out their livelihood. The Administrator's direction to immediately close down all the dairy farms run by Department of Animal Husbandry and holding auctions for this regard was contended to bring grave consequences to the people on the islands.

Moreover, it was submitted that deletion of meat from the menu as per the order was contrary to the National Programme of Mid Day Meal in Schools and Annual Budget for 2020-21, wherein there is a provision to provide meat and chicken to the children in the schools of Lakshadweep.

Since decisions taken after the present Administrator assumed office have largely affected the interest of people, the petition sought directions to the concerned authorities to refrain from implementing the reforms, citing that they infringe upon the ethnic culture, heritage and the food habits of the people of Lakshadweep.

The Bench comprising Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly observed that the menu for the mid day meal has been fixed and followed for several years, ever since its inception. A perusal of the National Programme also indicated that meat should be served to children.

The Court failed to understand how such a sudden change could be brought to the menu for children considering the vital aspect of health factor. The minutes of the Meeting also disclosed an attendee physician's opinion that non-vegetarian food is essential for the growth of children and for a healthy balanced diet, which has not been considered by the Administrator.

Since there was no prima facie reason pressing for exclusion of meat and chicken from the menu, the Bench issued an interim order directing the respondents, to provide food as before, by including meat and chicken, to the children of the schools in Lakshadweep.

"Prima facie, we find no reason for the change of fooditems, with the exclusion of meat and chicken. Therefore, we are inclined to pass an interim order directing the respondents,to provide food, as done before, by including meat and chicken,to the children of the schools in Lakshadweep", the bench observed.

Regarding the shutdown of dairy farms, the Division Bench opined that although the Administrator argues that it is necessary to avoid financial loss to the Administration, the e-mail did not indicate anything to that effect. Therefore, the Court ordered that the farms be allowed to continue until further orders.

As such, the Bench stayed the operation of the said orders pending disposal of the writ petition.

The petitioner alleged that the change in food-menu was done came as a part of decision to entrust the Mid Day Meal program to a Bangalore based NGO called "Akshaya Patra". However, this submission was denied by the Lakshadweep administration, whose standing counsel told the bench that there is no proposa lto entrust the work relating to preparation of Mid Day Meals to the said NGO. Therefore, the Court said that it is not necessary to address this issue at present.

The bench passed the following orders :

(i) Functioning of the dairy farms should be continued until further orders

(ii) Food, including meat, chicken, fish and egg, and other items, prepared and served to the school going children of Lakshadweep, as done in the past, should be continued until further orders. To make it clear, the earlier system should continue.

(iii) Respondents are directed to file their counter along with supporting documents.

The case will be next heard on June 30.

Click here to read/download the order

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