Choice of food and trade in foodstuff were part of right to life, the Allahabad high court has said, giving the UP government 10 days to draw up a plan so that its crackdown on illegal abattoirs and meat shops didn’t deprive people of their livelihood or food.
The court’s Lucknow bench also said various food habits had flourished in Uttar Pradesh and these were an essential part of the state’s secular culture. It was responding to a petition of a trader who sought directions for the government to renew his meat shop licence because the delay was preventing him from carrying on his trade.
Focus on cow smuggling and consumption of cattle meat has risen since the BJP won power in 2014, but the issue returned to spotlight after the new Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath clamped down on illegal slaughterhouses and cattle smuggling last month.
“To provide an immediate check on unlawful activity should be simultaneous with facilitating the carrying of lawful activity, particularly that relating to food, food habits and vending thereof that is undisputedly connected with the right to life and livelihood,” justices Amreshwar Pratap Sahi and Sanjai Harkauli said on April 3.
“Food that is conducive to health cannot be treated as a wrong choice” and it was the duty of the state to ensure supply of healthy foodstuff, a copy of the order available on the high court website said.
In response, the state government told the court here was no plan to ban consumption of meat or to close all slaughterhouses. The intention was to ban illegal slaughter houses and regulate their functioning in keeping with a Supreme Court order, it said.
The court appeared to agree with that, saying the government had not banned the sale of meat. It had only barred illegal abattoirs, permitting licensed slaughterhouses to run.
Delay in renewal of licences and various approvals have been cited by several shop and slaughterhouse owners whose units have been shut down.
The court clubbed with the current plea all the petitions filed before the Lucknow bench against the crackdown. The case will now be heard on April 13.
Appearing for the state government, Dheeraj Srivastava said a meeting would be convened shortly under the chairmanship of the chief secretary to decide on the issue of illegal slaughterhouses.
The court had on March 28 asked the government to place before it the order or instruction under which the drive for closure of illegal meat shops was being undertaken.
Compliance of law should not end up in people losing their livelihood, especially if it was due to government inaction, the court said on April 3.
A day after he was sworn in as the chief minister on March 19, Yogi Adityanath ordered a clamp down on illegal slaughters houses, butcher shops and mechanised abattoirs in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s biggest meat producer.
While meat traders went on strike against the alleged harassment, rivals said the BJP government’s decision was a move aimed at forcing people not to eat meat.
The strike was called off on Sunday after a meeting between Adityanath and the meat sellers’ association.