How can you stop people from eating what they want: Gujarat HC

Ahmedabad: The Gujarat High Court has questioned how people could be stopped from “eating what they want” outside their house as it slammed the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) for its drive against handcarts selling non-vegetarian food items on streets.

The HC made the remarks on Thursday while disposing of a petition filed by nearly 20 street vendors claiming the AMC’s recent anti-encroachment drive was targeted at handcarts selling non-vegetarian food items, an allegation denied by the civic body.

At one point, Justice Biren Vaishnav, who was hearing the petition, got agitated and asked the AMC “What is your problem? How can you decide what I should eat outside my house? How can you stop people from eating what they want? Suddenly because someone in power thinks that this is what they want to do?” Rights activists welcomed the order, saying no one has the right to infringe upon the personal liberty of others.

Through the petition, street vendors from Ahmedabad, whose handcarts were seized by the BJP-ruled AMC, alleged the drive against vendors selling egg and non-veg food items was launched in the city after an elected representative in Rajkot city gave a negative opinion about such food being sold on roads.

Advocate Ronith Joy, appearing for petitioners, termed the AMC’s move as an act of “bigotry” and claimed the civic body has removed the handcarts selling non-veg food on the ground they are not maintaining hygiene.

Joy stated that non-veg vendors were singled out for eviction on the ground that the food they were serving is not vegetarian food.

Agitated by the submission, Justice Vaishnav said, “Will the Municipal Commissioner decide what I will eat? Tomorrow they will tell me not to drink sugarcane juice because it will cause diabetes. Or tell me that coffee is bad for health.” When advocating Satyam Chhaya, appearing for the AMC, denied allegations saying the drive is meant only to remove encroachment, Justice Vaishnav said, “You are doing it in the garb of encroachment because you don’t like non-veg. It’s always about the convenience of the respondent. Don’t do it to satisfy someone’s ego.”

In his reply, supported by photographs, Chhaya stated the petition has been filed under a misconception as “there was no drive to remove all non-veg stalls. It was all about removing encroachment on roads, which was hindering traffic or pedestrian movement. We have not singled out anyone.” Referring to a photo submitted along with the affidavit, Chhaya told the court that the vendors had to be removed as they had occupied an entire footpath.

“This hampers the AMC’s drive to enforce traffic regulation. It is also in compliance with previous court orders mandating that such drive should be taken up in accordance with the law without any bias against a particular group of people as alleged,” noted Chhaya.

After taking into consideration the AMC’s assurance that the drive is only against encroachment irrespective of food these handcarts are selling, Justice Chhaya disposed of the petition.

Civil rights activist and lawyer KR Koshiti welcomed the High Court’s observation saying no one has the right to infringe upon the fundamental right to personal liberty.

“Even the Gujarat government had earlier clarified that people are free to eat whatever they want. Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees people’s fundamental right to personal liberty, such as what to eat and what to wear. No government has the right to infringe upon people’s rights,” said Koshti.

Mujahid Nafees, a convener of the Minority Coordination Committee, said “This drive of removing handcarts selling only non-veg food items was another tactic by this government to divide the society based on the food they eat. I am glad that the court made some scathing remarks on it. Eventually, the AMC had to announce that there was no discrimination,” said Nafees.

Civic bodies of Rajkot, Vadodara and Ahmedabad had earlier announced to remove non-veg food carts from city roads.

However, after Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel overruled such a move by local civic bodies, saying the state government has no problem with what people want to eat, the drive against non-veg food carts was converted into an “anti-encroachment” campaign.

However, civic bodies were later told by BJP state leadership not to take any actions against street food carts. All the civic bodies of the state are ruled by the BJP.