New Delhi, India – Authorities in Ahmedabad have ordered the removal of non-vegetarian food stalls from its main roads – the fourth city in the western Indian state of Gujarat to do so in recent days.
In an order on Monday, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation said 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.
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Devang Dani, chairman of the corporation’s town planning committee, told news agency ANI that the execution of the order will start on Tuesday.
The restriction came days after municipal corporations in Gujarat’s Rajkot, Bhavnagar and Vadodara cities, led by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), took similar measures.
Gujarat, one of the wealthiest states of India, is the home state of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who served as its chief minister for nearly 13 years before he won the national elections in 2014.
The civic administration in Vadodara and Rajkot even ordered the shopkeepers and hawkers to cover non-vegetarian food, including eggs, saying it could “hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus”.
It also stated that smoke emanating from such places could cause public health hazards.
“The practice of displaying meat, fish, and eggs at stalls might have continued for several years but it was time to end it,” Vadodara Municipal Corporation standing committee’s chairman Hitendra Patel was quoted as saying, according to local media reports.
Gujarat’s current Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel on Monday said the prohibition was not a “question of vegetarian and non-vegetarian” food items.
“People are free to eat whatever they want. But the food being sold at stalls should not be harmful and the stalls should not obstruct traffic flow,” he told reporters.
BJP spokesman in Gujarat, Yamal Vyas, claimed the decisions have been taken by the respective municipal offices and not his party.
“It’s not the BJP’s decision. It’s a decision by the respective municipal corporation … Party as a whole has not taken any stand on this issue,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Only thing is that all these stalls should not be a hindrance to the traffic … BJP does not object to non-vegetarian food per se. We object to food which is not very hygienic.”
The opposition Congress party said the BJP wants to “divert the attention of people” from the main issues, including unemployment and price rise.
“BJP has failed on the promises it made to people – be it employment or clean water. The main agenda of the BJP is to create polarisation by raising such non-issues,” Gujarat Congress spokesman Manish Doshi told Al Jazeera.
Doshi said the ban on non-vegetarian food stalls in Gujarat’s cities was an “election gimmick” by the BJP to further deepen the religious divide in the state.
“It should be left to an individual what he wants to eat, drink and wear. It’s a personal choice and the government should not impose that on people. This [ban on non-vegetarian stall] is an election gimmick of the BJP,” Doshi said.
“It is very dangerous for our democracy.”
Assembly elections in Gujarat, a BJP-governed state for more than 25 straight years, are due next year.
Non-vegetarian eateries, especially in BJP-governed states, have been facing increasing pressure from the party and Hindu supremacist groups affiliated to it.
Shamshad Pathan, a politician belonging to the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) in Gujarat, told Al Jazeera the decision will hurt the poor and called it a part of the BJP’s “hidden agenda” to benefit multinational companies.
“A majority of vendors in Gujarat who sell non-vegetarian food are either Muslims, Dalits or Adivasis [Indigenous]. This is to target them and benefit the big corporations,” Pathan said.