Ban on non-veg food display: BJP-ruled SDMC accused of polarising voters; targeting the poor

“India is a warm country. Non-vegetarian food needs to be stored at a certain temperature,” SDMC’s leader of house Shikha Rai reacted to the BJP’s proposed ban on display of non-veg food

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Dhairya Maheshwari

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to polarise the electorate in south Delhi through the proposed law that seeks to ban the display of non-vegetarian food at eateries and food stalls, the All India Unorganised Workers Congress (AIUWC) has said.

Anurag Shanker, the Delhi unit president of the AIUWC, questioned why was the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) not concerned about hygiene when it came to vegetarian food.

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on food safety say that even vegetarian food gets decayed if it is left out in the open for long. Why is the proposed law silent on that,” Shanker asked, speaking to National Herald.

He also said that the BJP-ruled SDMC would also find itself in contempt of court as it didn’t have jurisdiction over matters pertaining to food safety and street vendors.

“The earning of street vendors and small-scale eateries serving non-vegetarian food items would be severely hit if they decide to enforce this move,” Shanker said. He noted that several localities frequented by food lovers that fall within the bounds of the SDMC, including CR Park, Nizamuddin and Lajpat Nagar, would see a slump in business if the proposed local law was assented to by the SDMC Commissioner.

The AIUWC was newly constituted on Nov 15 after appointments for state heads and a vice-chairman were approved by now Congress President Rahul Gandhi. The outfit aims to highlight grievances of the 49-crore strong community of workers in the unorganised sector.

“The MCD was given a stinging rebuke in 2014 when it tried to ban the sale of sugarcane juice and cut fruits by street vendors. The Delhi HC had clearly said that such matters fell under the Street Vendors Act, 2014, and the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006,” Shanker said.

Arbind Singh, AIUCW’s chairman and the national coordinator at the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI), an advocacy group working for the welfare of street vendors, echoed the claim that the SDMC’s law on non-vegetarian food items would hit street vendors economically.

“We will initiate contempt of court proceedings against the SDMC if the Commissioner signs it into a law,” he told National Herald.

Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an economic think tank affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), however, threw its weight behind SDMC’s proposed ban.

Manch’s national co-convenor Dr Ashwani Mahajan told NH that the proposed ban won't have any adverse economic impact on small-scale eateries and street vendors.

“It is not going to impact businesses as it doesn’t forbid the sale of meat,” he said.

“The proposed law just stops eatery owners from displaying ugly non-vegetarian food items. It doesn’t prohibit the sale of meat,” he added.

He said that the sentiments of vegetarians were affected when they saw raw meat displayed at eateries and kebab stalls.

“It is a step in the direct direction,” he said.

‘India is a warm country’

Giving the logic behind the proposed law, BJP councillor and leader of the house in the SDMC Shikha Rai explained that non-vegetarian food was prone to contamination if it was kept in the open for long hours.

“India is a warm country. Non-vegetarian food needs to be stored at a certain temperature. If raw meat is kept out in the open and displayed as it is, it gets contaminated quite quickly,” Rai told National Herald.

“That is one of the main reasons we have proposed this ban on the display of non-vegetarian food outside,” she added.

The councillor from south Delhi’s Greater Kailash Part I dismissed concerns that the SDMC was overstepping its mandate by trying to frame food safety laws for restaurants, eateries and street vendors selling meat products.

“We are also responsible for maintaining health, hygiene and sanitation. If anything has the potential to spread disease and contaminate the surroundings, we are within our mandate to check such a thing,” she said.

Reacting to allegations by Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that the BJP was dividing people on their food habits, Rai said no party had raised concerns in the house when the bill was being passed.

“I don’t understand why are they raising these concerns now,” she said.

Rai added, “We already tell eatery and food stall vendors to keep their vegetarian food covered. Even food stall and eatery owners selling vegetarian foods are fined.”

Shanker from the AIUWC said that Congress would organise a Delhi-wide movement to counter the law if the Commissioner cleared the ban.

“We will bring all the affected parties, including food stall owners, together and launch a movement to counter this move of the BJP.”

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Published: 30 Dec 2017, 10:26 PM