By the time the hearing ended on Friday, Chief Justice of India T S Thakur had learnt the culinary preferences of at least six senior advocates.
A three-judge bench, headed by the CJI and comprising Justice A M Khanwilkar and Justice D Y Chandrachud, was hearing a PIL on how hens are kept in deplorable conditions in tiny cages, with no space to move.
Veteran lawyer K K Venugopal began his arguments for the Animal Welfare Board of India by pointing out that “even a little” help from the top court could improve the conditions in which hens are kept in poultry farms and hatcheries. He also rued the non-implementation of animal welfare laws in the country.
At this, the bench asked Venugopal if the board had also given a thought to the conditions in which chickens are kept in shops for sale in the market. “They are half-dead already. Their feathers are gone… they look sick. It is not a good sight when you see them in such conditions in the heat and cold,” observed the CJI. Venugopal responded that egg farmers, in fact, grind male baby chickens since they are useless to the poultry industry.
At this, the CJI asked the lawyer, “Mr Venugopal, are you a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian?” Venugopal said he is “strictly non-vegetarian”. Assisting Venugopal was senior lawyer Sidharth Luthra, who told the bench that he, too, is non-vegetarian.
Venugopal then told the bench that the board had recommended rules on caging of hens in 2010 and 2013 but the government had not acted on it.
For a response from the Centre, the bench wanted Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar to appear, but he was not available in the courtroom. When lawyers were asked about his dietary preferences, they told the CJI that Kumar is vegetarian. “It seems non-vegetarians would be fighting for what vegetarians would want to and vice-versa,” said CJI Thakur.
Waiting for their case, which was listed next in line, senior lawyers Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Harish Salve also joined the debate. Singhvi, who said he is “strictly vegetarian”, revealed how Venugopal frequently “horrified” him with stories about exotic non-vegetarian dishes he had in Vietnam and Cambodia. “I think it was a mistake talking to him (Singhvi) about it,” quipped Venugopal.
Salve quoted from a study to state that non-vegetarian food has been associated with stress because meat contains a certain acid which is also linked to depressive symptoms.
When the bench was about to adjourn the matter, awaiting a law officer from the government to show up, Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh entered the court. The CJI asked Singh: “Are you a vegetarian or non-vegetarian, Mr Singh?” The ASG said he is non-vegetarian.
“So do you know what are you eating? In what conditions are they kept before they come to you cooked?” CJI Thakur asked Singh. By now, other lawyers had briefed Singh about the case, and he agreed to come back next week to apprise the court of the regulations in force.
For the record, CJI Thakur is non-vegetarian.