UP's Crackdown Against Halal Products: A 'Criminal Case' and a Ban

The UP government acted in response to an FIR alleging that "business interest of other communities was being hurt" due to halal certification.

New Delhi: By lodging an FIR against four organisations that issue halal certification, linking them to alleged terror funding and banning the manufacturing and sale of halal-certified products, the Yogi Adityanath-ruled Uttar Pradesh has, in a span of 24 hours, unleashed a crackdown against halal items in the state.

Two companies who now face a criminal case over halal certification, speaking to The Wire, accused the complainant of spreading misconceptions about halal certification and, as a consequence, undermining national interest since these products contribute to the nation’s economy and trade.

Halal means permitted or lawful under Islamic law and is often associated with the dietary norms of Muslims especially related to consumption of meat, although the word can apply to other elements of life as well, such as income, work, food ingredients, cosmetic products and medicines.

On November 17, an FIR was lodged in Lucknow against the Halal India Private Limited Chennai, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind Halal Trust Delhi, Halal Council of India Mumbai and Jamiat Ulama Maharashtra on charges of allegedly issuing halal certificates for some products on the basis of forged documents to exploit the religious sentiments of customers of a particular community (Muslims) for financial gains.

Apart from these organisations, the FIR lists as accused other unknown manufacturing companies and their managers and owners; others involved in “anti-national conspiracy”; others who are “funding notified terrorist organisations and organisations involved in anti-national activities” and people who are “conspiring to incite large-scale riots by messing with public faith.”

The FIR was lodged at the Hazratganj Police Station on a complaint by one Shailendra Kumar Sharma, who accused these companies of issuing halal certificates without any authority for some products to increase their sales. Sharma said the companies allegedly did not follow prescribed standards while issuing these certificates and accused them of manipulating religious sentiments of Muslims.

This was to hurt the business and reduce the sales of those companies which had not received these certificates, Sharma alleged. “This is a criminal act and I suspect that these undue profits are being sent to anti-social and anti-national elements,” he said.

The FIR invoked charges including criminal conspiracy, promoting enmity between groups, extortion, uttering words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings, cheating, forgery of valuable security, forgery for purpose of cheating and using as genuine a forged document or electronic record.

A day after the FIR was lodged, the state Food Security and Drug Administration (FSDA) department – which is under the direct ministerial control of Adityanath – on November 18 issued an order banning the manufacture, sale, storage and distribution of halal-certified products with immediate effect in the state from the view of “public health.”  Food products made for export were, however, excluded from this list.

FSDA commissioner Anita Singh said that halal certification was being mentioned on the labels of certain food items such as dairy products, sugar, bakery items, peppermint oil, edible oils and salty ready-to-eat savouries.

Only the competent authorities mentioned in Section 29 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, have the right to decide on the quality of food products and this is done on the basis of standards laid out in the law, said the commissioner in the order copy tweeted by agency ANI.

The halal certification of food products was a parallel system which created a situation of confusion, and was completely against the basic intent of the said laws, said Singh. It was also punishable with a fine of upto Rs 3 lakh under Section 52 of the 2006 law for the offence of misbranding food, the UP government said.

Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind Halal Trust said the allegations levelled against it were “baseless” and aimed at “tarnishing” its image.  It would take necessary legal measures to counter the misinformation. The Jamiat said its certification process aligned with the requirement of manufacturers for both export and domestic distribution in India, and that it adhered to government regulations requiring all Halal Certification bodies to be registered by the National Accreditation Board for Certification Bodies under Quality Council of India.

“The global demand for halal certified products is robust, and it’s imperative for Indian companies to obtain such certification, a fact endorsed by our Ministry of Commerce, Government of India,” said Jamiat officials.

“Certain individuals propagating false claims against halal certification directly undermine our national interests, ” said Niaz A. Farooqui, CEO, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind Halal Trust. He pointed out that halal trade stands as a significant $3.5 trillion industry, and India benefits from its promotion in exports and tourism, particularly with the country’s crucial trade partners in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries and Southeast Asia.

Farooqui said the ban on halal certificate products in UP would impact the manufacturers and sellers of these products which cut across communities. “This is not about meat but other items,” he told The Wire.

Halal certification was not merely a requirement for importing countries but also for tourists visiting India, particularly those seeking halal certified products during their stay, he said.

Mufti Habeeb Yusuf Qasmi, president of the Halal Council of India, said the controversy over Halal had emerged because people had started viewing everything from the myopic approach of Hindu-Muslim. “Halal is about hygiene and purity. This is not a matter of Hindu-Muslim but food,” he said.

Qasmi stressed that the misconceptions being spread over halal certificates were not in national interest, as these certifications promoted trade, especially exports.

In the FIR, Sharma said halal certification was also found on “vegetarian” items such as beauty products, oil, soap, toothpaste and honey, even though they don’t require such certifications.

The business interest of other communities was being hurt, he claimed.

Qasmi rejected the allegations that companies issuing halal certificates were trying to promote the businesses of only one community at the cost of the others (read non-Muslims).

“This is absolutely false. Venky’s, Zorabian and Godrej (companies certified by the Halal Council of India) are all run by non-Muslims,” Qasmi told The Wire, stressing that Halal certification had in fact benefitted the businesses of non-Muslim firms.

Qasmi said that the Halal certification was used for apparently vegetarian products as well in case they include animal products among their ingredients such as medicine, toothpaste and cosmetic items.

Farooqui in a statement said it was a matter of choice of individuals and manufacturers preferring to have certain certifications for their own satisfaction based upon the credentials of the certifying authorities. “It saves a large number of consumers from using products which they do not want for a variety of reasons and ensures availability of need based products in the market. Those who do not want to use such products are free not to use them.”

Jamiat’s halal certificates are globally recognised by different governments and authorities all across the world, he added. These include Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia.