Lakshadweep Islands

Kerala High Court stays two controversial orders of Lakshadweep administration

Published : June 23, 2021 16:33 IST

The Kerala High Court building in Ernakulam. Photo: H. VIBHU

The Kerala High Court has issued an interim stay on two controversial orders issued by the Lakshadweep administration.

 

The Kerala High Court (which has jurisdiction over Lakshadweep) has issued an interim stay on the controversial orders issued by the Lakshadweep administration to exclude meat and chicken, part of the staple diet of the islanders, from the noon meal programme for school children and to close down the dairy farms run by its Animal Husbandry Department.

“Prima facie, we find no reason for the change of food items,” the court said, ordering that “food, including meat, chicken, fish and egg, and other items, prepared and served to the school-going children of Lakshadweep, as done in the past, should be continued until further orders. To make it clear, the earlier system should continue,” a Division Bench of Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji P. Chaly said on June 22.

The Bench also ordered that the “functioning of the dairy farms should be continued until further orders,” while considering a public interest writ petition filed by Ajmal Ahmed R., a lawyer and executive member of the Lakshadweep Bar Association.

The court said it will hear the case again on June 30, allowing the Union Territory’s administration two weeks to file a counter petition along with supporting documents.

A series of administrative and policy measures announced by Praful Khoda Patel, the Union Territory’s new Administrator who is also a Gujarat politician and also the Administrator of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu, had led to discontent among the people of Lakshadweep in the past few months. Opposition leaders have been alleging that he has been acting like “a political appointee” of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Central government ever since he was given additional charge of the island territory (See separate story).

The public interest writ petition sought a court order preventing the island administration from implementing “any reforms infringing the ethnic culture, heritage, food habit, and affecting the serene and calm atmosphere in the Lakshadweep Islands and also infringing the Constitutional rights guaranteed under Articles 19 and 300A of the Constitution of India”.

It said that the Administrator had ordered the closure of all dairy farms run by the Animal Husbandry Department without assigning reasons and that a proposed public auction for the disposal of all animals, including bulls, calves, heifers, ducks and so on, did not take place only because there were no bidders.

The petition also said that though the National Programme of Mid Day Meal in Schools Annual Work Plan and Budget 2020-21 has provided for meat and chicken in the menu for school children in the Union Territory, the administration took a “sudden decision” not to provide such non-vegetarian food to the children. It also said that, all along, food for the children was prepared and distributed by stakeholders within the island, using the manpower of the islanders, which was also one of the sources of employment for them. The petition alleged that this was uncalled for and had been done so as to entrust the work relating to preparation of food to “Akshayapatra”, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in Bengaluru.

The administration’s preliminary arguments were that the decision to close down dairy farms were taken because they were found to be “financially unviable”; the decision to change the mid-day meal menu in schools was taken by an 18-member steering and monitoring committee and that the Administrator had no role in it; there was no proposal to allocate the work of preparation and distribution of food to the NGO Akshayapatra, but the decision was only to have informal talks with that NGO regarding the implementation of the mid-day meal scheme; that the decision to change the menu was taken because of the difficulty in procurement of “certain items” during the second phase of the pandemic situation; and that the National Programme of Mid Day Meal in Schools Annual Work Plan and Budget 2020-21 had already been issued for the academic year 2020-2021, and, therefore, it had no relevance for the academic year 2021-22.

The Division Bench, however, said in its interim order that “prima facie, we are of the view that switching over to a different menu, with the exclusion of chicken and meat, would run contrary to the National Programme of Mid-Day Meal in Schools Annual Work Plan and Budget 2020-21, especially, when it is constituted with the avowed objective of ensuring the physical and mental health of the children.... We are unable to understand how there could be a change in the menu of food items given to the children, prepared taking into account, the vital aspect of health factor (and when a physician too had recommended for it in the committee), and how such a distinction can be drawn, merely, by saying that it was prepared, for a different academic year.”

“Prima facie, we find no reason for the change of food items, with the exclusion of meat and chicken. Therefore, we are inclined to pass an interim order directing the respondents, to provide food, as done before, by including meat and chicken, to the children of the schools in Lakshadweep,” the court said.

It also said that the dairy farms should be allowed to continue, as, even though the administration’s counsel had said that “a policy decision” was taken to close them down as they were not financially viable, the documents submitted to the court did not indicate any such decision.

Aisha Sultana warned against violating quarantine norms

Meanwhile, the film-maker Aisha Sultana, already facing sedition charges for some of the remarks she made against the Lakshadweep administration, was asked to appear at the Kavaratti police station for questioning a second time and found herself being served with a “caution notice” for “violating the island’s home quarantine norms”.

On June 16, the Kerala High Court had granted her interim anticipatory bail for a week in the sedition case and ordered that she should appear before the Kavaratti police for interrogation on June 20 as per the notice served on her under Section 41A of the Code of Criminal Procedure. However, the court had also ordered that, in the event of her arrest, she should be released on bail.

The film-maker had approached the court seeking protection in the first information report (FIR) registered by Kavaratti police based on a complaint by a BJP activist against her remarks during a television debate that the Government of India had used “a bio-weapon” against the island inhabitants.

Her lawyer submitted to the court that the remark was made while criticising the administration’s decision to relax the COVID quarantine norms that had led to a sudden surge in infections in the island, which was until then then entirely free of COVID cases, and that the remark was made in the heat of the moment and was not meant to be taken in the literal sense. Her lawyer also said it was a “lapse”, that she had clarified her remarks and had later issued an apology.

The administration, however, described her statement as a “powerful, noxious” assertion against the Government of India in the context of the protests in Lakshadweep that could cause disaffection among the people of the islands and sow seeds of separatism in their minds.

The High Court had reserved final orders on her bail application. But the Lakshadeep administration has now said in the caution notice that after her arrival at Kavaratti for questioning by the police in the sedition case, she had moved out of her place of stay, visited public places and mingled with people, violating the quarantine norms in force in the islands from May 12, and has warned her of strict action if she did it again.

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