The Kerala High Court on Tuesday ordered an interim stay on two orders passed by the Lakshadweep administration to ban meat items from midday meals in schools and shut down dairy farms on the Union Territory, reported Bar and Bench.
A bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly passed the order on a petition filed by Ajmal Ahmed, a lawyer and a resident of the islands. The High Court gave the Centre two weeks’ time to file its counter-affidavit and said that no further action should be taken on the matter.
The High Court’s order came amid a massive outcry among the residents of the Union Territory as well as Opposition parties over a slew of regulations introduced by Lakshadweep administrator Praful Khoda Patel.
The new regulations by Patel include a proposed cow slaughter ban, a preventive detention law in the Union Territory – which has one of the lowest crime rates in the country – and a draft law proposing sweeping changes in land development rules.
Opposition parties have criticised Patel’s decisions related to the Union Territory and have asked for his removal from the post. The parties accused him of harassing locals and destroying the heritage of the island territory. Politicians have also alleged that Patel, who had served as Gujarat home minister, has been targeting Lakshadweep’s large Muslim population.
The petition in the Kerala High Court contended that the decision to change midday meals menu and shut down dairy farms infringe upon the heritage, ethnic culture, food habits and the rights of the residents granted under the Constitution of India.
School children in Lakshadweep had been getting midday meals serving cooked meat and other foods for years, the plea said. It also noted that the administration implemented a new menu with no meat items without any consultation.
The petition said that the administration was planning to hand over the preparation of the midday meals to a non-governmental officer from Bangalore called Akshaya Patra. It was also argued in the plea that 105 employees engaged as cooks in various schools had been dismissed from their jobs since the proposal was introduced.
On the matter of closing dairy farms, the petitioner claimed that it was an attempt with an intention to implement the proposed ban on cow slaughter. He alleged that the farms were closed with the ulterior motive to promote dairy products of a manufacturer from Gujarat, reported Live Law.
“The third respondent in his official possession as administrator of Lakshadweep is acting in a belligerent manner and attempting to attack the culture and heritage being followed by islanders for decades”, the petition said.
During the hearing, the High Court asked the respondents what would be the advantage of disrupting the traditional food practices. They said that change in midday meal menu was done as there was a shortage of storage facilities for meat items and that dairy farms were shut down as they had not been profitable.