A policy can be criticised on many counts — for being superfluous and wasteful, impractical, callous or even for being the instrument of a larger, divisive agenda. The South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) order making it mandatory for restaurants and eateries to display whether they serve “halal” or “jhatka” meat and poultry has the rare distinction of checking all these boxes. The food and beverage industry in the capital is still reeling from the financial impact of the pandemic, and another unnecessary rule will only add to its burden. According to meat traders, it is price and quality that determine the kind of meat purchased by restaurants, not the method of slaughter. Besides, as multiple restaurateurs told this newspaper, customers rarely inquire — or care — about how the meat they consume is slaughtered. SDMC officials have also pointed out that enforcing the policy is nearly impossible, since there is no way to distinguish between halal and jhatka in cooked meat.
Given the opposition to and futility of the policy, the only explanation for its promulgation lies in the political ends it means to serve. A large chunk — about 80 per cent, by some estimates — of the meat consumed in Delhi is “halal” because a majority of butchers belong to the Muslim community. It is also a vital sector because of the employment it generates. Moreover, in a country struggling with a malnutrition problem, animal proteins are an essential part of the nutrition matrix. The rationale for the order, according to BJP SDMC leader Narendra Chawla, is that it will “benefit the Khatik community”, which uses the “jhatka” method. The motive, then, seems to be to communalise food and to pit people involved in the animal trade against each other. By branding food served according to the religion of those who provide it, the BJP-controlled SDMC is trying to communalise food.
All this is being done by a municipal administration that is unable to meet even the basic obligations to its employees. On Thursday, the Delhi High Court, while ordering the state government and municipal corporation to pay the backlog of salaries and pensions to its employees, said that it was “disgusted” by “absolutely no concern you have shown for your employees”. Perhaps, rather than focusing on what notices restaurants need to carry as a political ploy, the SDMC should focus on the needs of the city and its staff.