Indian politician says ‘no coercive action’ against non-vegetarian food carts after outrage

An Indian politician from the ruling political party in the western state of Gujarat has said no “coercive action” will be taken against street vendors selling non-vegetarian food after public anger about cultural authoritarianism.

Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Gujarat chief CR Paatil said he has ordered mayors in Gujarat to not take any “coercive action” against street cart vendors selling non-vegetarian food, reported the Indian Express newspaper.

This move comes after four municipalities in the state banned the preparation and display of non-vegetarian food in public

Municipal authorities in Bhavnagar, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, and Vadodara ordered the removal of non-vegetarian food carts from their main streets claiming that they offend religious sentiments. It led to a public outcry about state interference in individual choices.

Mr Paatil on Saturday said he has ordered the state authorities to not take any action against such vendors as “everyone has the liberty to decide what to eat”.

“It is not appropriate to remove a person selling non-vegetarian food on a cart if people are buying from him. There is no such provision in the law either,” the politician said.

He added: “People are free to sell anything that is not prohibited. So, there is no question of removing carts.”

Earlier this month, the Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) launched a drive to remove all non-vegetarian carts from the streets. Civic bodies in the state also started to follow suit.

Mr Paatil said: “There would be other problems, too, including pollution. But you are not raising them because we tend to think that causing pollution is our right.”

Benjamin Bara, a researcher at the Indian Social Institute in Delhi, told AsiaNews that Article 21 of the Indian Constitution protects personal freedom and Article 301 upholds freedom to trade.

“If the carts and stalls are not following a protocol, or their food quality is creating severe problems to the health of citizens, then a proper warning should be given,” Mr Bara said. “Removing all the stalls from a lane is not the solution but poses a serious threat to people’s livelihood.”

The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation had said last week it will remove stalls selling non-vegetarian food items from the city’s main roads as well as within the 100 metre (330 feet) radius of schools, colleges and religious places.

At that time Gujarat’s chief minister Bhupendra Patel said: “It is not a question of vegetarian and non-vegetarian. People are free to eat whatever they want. But the food being sold at stalls should not be harmful & the stalls should not obstruct traffic flow.”

Street vendors had expressed alarm at the decision last week saying it will rob them of their livelihood.

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