Saturday, December 9, 2023

Beef, chicken in mid-day meal scheme: Supreme Court refuses to interfere with decision of Lakshadweep administration

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The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to interfere with the decision of the Lakshadweep administration to exclude chicken, beef and other meat from the menu of mid-day meal for school children, as well as closure of all dairy farms being run by the Animal Husbandry department in the Union Territory.

Dismissing the special leave petition filed by Advocate Ajmal Ahmed, a resident of Kavaratti island, which challenged the Kerala High Court order of September 2021, the Bench of Justice Aniruddha Bose and Justice Bela M. Trivedi observed that including non-vegetarian items such as chicken, beef and meat in the mid-day meal scheme was a policy decision of the Union Territory.

It was not within the court’s domain to decide as to what should be the choice of food for the children of a particular region. The Apex Court cannot import personal preferences in policy matters and would rather go by the administrative decision in this regard, it added.

Besides, the Bench pointed out that no breach of any legal provision or outstanding arbitrariness has been pointed out in the plea. It added that this was a policy decision, which  would not come within the scope of judicial review.

It asked the counsel appearing for the petitioner whether there was any vested right to have non-vegetarian food on the mid-day meal menu. Noting that a court of law was not intended to do value judgments of a government’s decision, the Bench told the counsel to appreciate the limits of the courts. 

It further said that the Union Territory was not asking the petitioner to change their food habits, but it was only changing what they were serving in schools in mid-day meals. The Apex Court further noted that under the Food Security Act, there may be a vested right for mid-day meals, but not the menu.

Appearing for the archipelago, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) KM Nataraj submitted that the nutritional value prescribed under the National Food Security Act, 2013 was being maintained, adding that eggs and fish, which were available in abundance in the said islands, have been included in the mid-day meal menu. 

Regarding the shutdown of government-run dairy farms in the archipelago, Nataraj apprised the top court of the country that these farms were haemorrhaging public money and had become financially unsustainable.

Taking in view the submissions of the ASG, the Bench dismissed the SLP on the grounds that an executive decision had limited scope of judicial review. It said the court cannot question why a particular law was brought or why a policy was changed. In case it affected the fundamental rights, then possibly the courts had the scope of interfering. It further mentioned the Jallikattu case, stating that the Constitution Bench had held in the matter that it was for the legislature to find out what defined culture.

(Case title: Ajmal Ahmed R vs Union of India and ors)

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