22 Aug 2023 1:37 PM GMT
The decision on whether chicken and other meat would be provided as a part of the midday meal menu to schoolchildren was a policy decision that should be left to the wisdom of the executive, the Lakshadweep administration told the Supreme Court on Tuesday. A bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Sanjay Kumar was hearing a plea over the Lakshadweep administration’s decision...
The decision on whether chicken and other meat would be provided as a part of the midday meal menu to schoolchildren was a policy decision that should be left to the wisdom of the executive, the Lakshadweep administration told the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
A bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Sanjay Kumar was hearing a plea over the Lakshadweep administration’s decision to exclude chicken and other meat from the menu of midday meals for schoolchildren, as well as its order directing the closure of all dairy farms in the archipelago run by the animal husbandry department.
Although this petition was dismissed by the Kerala High Court, in May last year, the Supreme Court, while agreeing to take the appeal on board, granted the petitioner interim relief by issuing a stay on the operation of the administration’s orders.
During the brief exchange today before the hearing was adjourned, Additional Solicitor-General KM Nataraj argued –
“In this matter, there is an application for the interim order to be vacated at the earliest point in time. We have been pressing for it. Ultimately, this is a policy matter which has to be decided by the government. A public interest litigation was filed before the high court, which examined and dismissed it. Now, by virtue of an interim order, everything has come to a standstill.
“This decision is against the policies of the government of India,” countered Senior Advocate IH Syed, appearing for the public interest litigant, “I will point it out to this court. It will require a hearing.”
How much interference in ‘policy issues’ can be countenanced, Justice Bose wondered aloud. “But…” The judge trailed off.
“With great respect, it is not a policy issue,” Syed insisted.
“Alright, we will grant leave now and post the matter after a couple of weeks," Justice Bose declared, before pronouncing –
“Leave granted. List the matter on September 13 within the first five appeals. The application filed by the UT of Lakshadweep will also be taken up on that day.”
In 2021, chicken and other meat were banned from the midday meals of schoolchildren by the newly formed administration of the Lakshadweep union territory. Not only this, but in the same year, the archipelago administration also directed the immediate closure of all dairy farms run by the Department of Animal Husbandry and the disposal of the bulls, calves, and other animals through public auction. This move was resisted by a local lawyer Ajmal Ahmed, who approached the Kerala High Court in a writ petition.
After initially issuing a stay on the administration’s orders, a high court bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Shaji P Chaly – both of whom have retired since – dismissed Ahmed’s plea in September 2021, observing that the nutritional value of the food was relevant and not its kind, under the national midday meal scheme.
In dismissing the petition, the court accepted the administration’s argument that the National Food Security Act, 2013 did not mandate the supply of a non-vegetarian diet to schoolchildren and that the menu was altered to match the local availability of food. The administration’s argument on the dairy farms being financially unviable also found favour with the division bench of the Kerala High Court. In view of these contentions, the bench ruled that there was no ‘arbitrariness’ or ‘illegality’ in the impugned orders.
Against this order of dismissal, Ahmed approached the top court in a special leave petition, in which it was, inter alia, contended that altering the food menu violated the right to choice of food under Article 21 of the Constitution. Not only did a bench headed by former Supreme Court judge Indira Banerjee issue notice in May 2022, but it also directed that the interim stay issued by the high court on the administration’s orders would continue to operate.
Ajmal Ahmed v. Union of India & Ors. | Special Leave Petition (Civil) No. 19225 of 2021