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No Non-Veg for Domestic Economy Passengers as Air India Cuts Costs the Sanskari Way

The move, which will not apply to executive class passengers, is being passed off by the airline as one which will lead to an “improved catering service”.

Air India’s Airbus A321 is on display at the tarmac of Mumbai airport. Credit: Reuters/Punit Paranjpe/Files

New Delhi: In order to cut costs and avoid awkward food mix-ups, the sarkari national carrier Air India has decided to go down the ‘sanskari’ route and stop serving non-vegetarian food to its economy class passengers on domestic flights.

“Air India has taken a conscious decision not to have non-vegetarian meal in economy class on its domestic flights to reduce wastage and costs as well as in order to improve catering service,” the airline said in a statement today.

“It also eliminates the possibility of mix-up: a non-veg meal getting served to a vegetarian passenger, as it had happened a few times in the past,” the airline’s chairman and managing director Ashwani Lohani was quoted by The Hindu as saying.

Air India sources told PTI that the decision was implemented last month.

Last December, the airline started serving ‘vegetarian only’ food in all its domestic flights of under 90 minutes duration.

The in-flight status of eggs, which many Indian ‘vegetarians’ eat, is not clear.

Indian Railways, which is also a loss-making public sector company, serves non-vegetarian food on its trains and does not charge less for vegetarian fare. And if the railways manages to serve many more meals every day without mixing up vegetarian with non-veg, it is not clear why Air India is unable to do so.

Surveys of the eating habits of Indians suggest the number of Indians who eat meat ranges from 71% (Census of India) to 88% (Anthropological Survey of India).

However, Air India officials insist their own surveys suggest otherwise. “We have examined the issue and we have found that people are very health conscious and many prefer veg meals over non-veg meals. As a result, a lot of non-veg food gets wasted,” an official was quoted by NDTV as saying.

Many BJP members and leaders – especially in states like Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Telangana, Kerala, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand and Goa where more than 95% of the population is non-vegetarian – eat meat. But, notes senior journalist Manini Chatterjee in The Telegraph, “the dominant impulse of the sangh parivar is a virulent vegetarianism – signs of which have become much more evident in recent years. BJP-ruled states such as Madhya Pradesh have doggedly refused to supply eggs under the school mid-day meal scheme in spite of its proven nutritional value for growing children; vegetarian fare – particularly Gujarati snacks – has become de rigueur at official functions in Delhi; and bans on the selling of mutton, chicken, eggs and fish on Hindu festival days is becoming more frequent.”

In 2014, the human resources development ministry forwarded a letter to all Indian Institutes of Technology from an RSS activist suggesting segregation of non-veg and veg diners. “Children who have started practicing non- vegetarianism have saddened their parents by their ‘tamasic’ behaviour,” the letter by S.K. Jain, said. “They are deviating from the Indian value system because food has direct correlation with their thoughts.”