The Supreme Court on Monday directed continuation of an interim order passed by the Kerala High Court asking the Lakshadweep administration to continue providing meat and chicken to schoolchildren as part of the mid-day meal programme pending disposal of a petition challenging the HC’s final order ratifying the decision to exclude these items from the menu and close down financially unviable government-run dairy farms on the island.
Issuing notice of the petition against the HC’s final order dated September 17, 2021, a bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and A S Bopanna directed that “in the meanwhile, the interim order passed by the High Court on 22.06.2021 shall continue”.
The petitioner had approached the HC, seeking quashing of the Lakshadweep administration’s May 21, 2021, order “whereby the Director of the Department of Animal Husbandry, Kavaratti…inter alia issued directions on the basis of the direction issued by the Secretary (Animal Husbandry), Union Territory of Lakshadweep, to close all the dairy farms run by the Department of Animal Husbandry and to dispose of the bulls, calves etc. Immediately in the presence of the Action Committee Members by giving wide publicity and observing other formalities, and to quash…minutes of the UT Level Steering-cum-Monitoring Committee and District Task Force on mid-day meal scheme, dated 27.01.2021, whereby the existing menu was modified by deleting meat and chicken, and including fruits and dry fruits”.
In its June 22, 2021, interim order, the HC directed that “the functioning of the dairy farms should be continued until further orders” and that “food, including meat, chicken, fish and egg, and other items, prepared and served to the schoolchildren of Lakshadweep, as done in the past, should be continued until further orders”.
However, in the final order of September 17, 2021, the HC dismissed the petition saying that “the petitioner has not made out any case of arbitrariness or illegality in the policy decision taken by the Lakshadweep administration in the matter”.
The HC said “on an evaluation of the law on the point, it is clear that more than everything, nutritional aspects and calorification should be the concern…rather than providing different kinds of food to the children. When that is the national programme envisioned for the mid-day meal scheme by the framers of law, the petitioner cannot turn around to contend that the Lakshadweep administration has introduced a draconian law so as to interfere with the traditional food habits of the people of the island”.
The HC, which perused the material before it, said “it is explicit and clear that detailed and elaborate discussions were held in respect of the dairy farms and arrived at a conclusion that the dairy farms are conducted at a huge loss and it was accordingly that a decision was taken to close down the units”.
It also said that “nobody can insist the state/Union Territory or the government of India to provide them any particular kind of food in the programme envisaged by the respective governments”.
The HC also added that “we are of the clear opinion that the petitioner has made the allegations against the administrator and the administration without understanding the implications of the law involved in the matter for the mid-day meal scheme”.