Meat ban matter of fundamental rights, says Uttarakhand high court

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In a country where 70% of the population eats non-vegetarian food, the matter of banning meat is one that concerns the fundamental rights of citizens and isn’t a majority versus minority issue, the Uttarakhand high court said on Friday while hearing two petitions against a ban on slaughterhouses in Haridwar. The bench of chief justice R S Chauhan and justice Alok Kumar Verma said, “The issue is not minority versus majority. The issue is very simple. What are the fundamental rights of the citizens of India?”

The court has now asked the petitioners to amend their pleas in a week as none of them pleaded that such a ban violates the right to privacy of a citizen. The court remarked that the petitions have not been drafted with “whole-heartedness” that is required in challenging “seminal constitutional issues”.

The pleas filed by some residents of Haridwar had alleged that a ban on slaughterhouses in Haridwar discriminated against minorities as many areas in the district had a substantial Muslim population.

On Friday, the bench cited surveys on food habits of Indians from 2018 and 2019. “It’s very glaring data that in Uttarakhand 72.6% of the population is non-vegetarian. In totality, 70% of Indian population is non-vegetarian which busts the myth that the majority of the population is vegetarian,” the court said.

In its previous hearing, the bench had said that a ban like the one in Haridwar calls into question the extent to which the state can determine a citizen’s choices. “The issue is whether a citizen has the right to decide his own diet or will that be decided by the state,” it had said.

The court had also said that a civilisation is judged only by how it treats its minorities. “Democracy does not only mean rule by majority but, most importantly, democracy means the protection of the minority,” it had said.

In March, Uttarakhand had declared all areas in Haridwar “slaughterhouse-free” and cancelled no objection certificates issued to slaughterhouses. The two petitions in the high court challenged this on two grounds — a blanket ban on meat of any type is unconstitutional, as was the section the Uttarakhand government had inserted into the UP Municipalities Act, 237A, to give itself power to declare an area under a municipal corporation, council or nagar panchayat a “slaughter-free” zone.

The court has also asked the petitioners to amend the plea to challenge the constitutional validity of the amendment made to the UP Municipal Corporation Act. Like the municipalities Act, an amendment was made to the municipal corporation Act that gave the state government power to put a blanket ban on animal slaughter in any municipal corporation.

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