Slaughterhouses have become sites of bitter contests among faiths and regulations. The chaotic ways of enforcing environmental and food regulations ignore one of India's biggest realities: over 70 per cent of Indians are non-vegetarian. To meet the demand for meat, animals will have to be slaughtered. Ishan Kukreti explains why slaughterhouses have to be "illegal" to be sustainable, while Jitendra travels to Uttar Pradesh to unravel why farmers have to give up their cattle for survival. Their conclusion: it is a trade typical to small farmers and traders that needs to be sensitively managed.
The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, took his first major decision soon after assuming power. On March 22, he ordered the closure of all “illegal” slaughterhouses. The chief minister, known for his anti-cow slaughter and pro-vegetarianism stand, justified the order not by referring to his personal ideology, but by citing an order given by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on May 12, 2015. Krishankant Singh Hoon, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader, went to the NGT in 2013 to seek the closure of those slaughterhouses not adhering to government regulations. The NGT ordered, “The State of UP, UPPCB (UP Pollution Control Board), Nagar Palika & Corporations of all these three districts [Ghaziabad, Meerut and Hapur] and all other public authorities concerned shall fully ensure that no illegal and unauthorized slaughter houses are permitted to operate.” NGT also ordered UPPCB to constitute a committee to issue certificates to small shop owners to permit them to “slaughter limited number of animals for sale of meat in the local areas”. UPPCB was required to do this each quarter.
NGT’s directions also refer by name to three meat exporters, M/s Rayban Foods Pvt Ltd, Al Nafees Frozen Food Exports Pvt Ltd and Al Nazir Exports Pvt Ltd, saying that UPPCB would allow these three companies to slaughter limited number of animals (for which a committee had been formed), which would be in addition to the capacity for which these three companies had got permission.
Little information is available about the compliance with these directions and whether these were even feasible. But two years later, the NGT verdict has snowballed into a national rage, and the debate has now completely shifted to protection of cows. The extreme chaos and frenzy have eclipsed the issue of regulating slaughterhouses for healthy meat.
Within a week after the UP order, the slaughterhouse became the first port of call for politicians, policymakers and the police. Adityanath’s clampdown started a domino effect of government crackdowns on slaughterhouses across the country, particularly in seven states—Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, UP, Rajasthan and Haryana—that have a significant share in the meat trade. According to an assessment by Down To Earth based on media reports, between March 23 and April 7, there have been at least 327 official raids on slaughterhouses and meat shops in these seven states. These states are responsible for over 32 per cent of the country’s meat production, as per data from the Union department of animal husbandry. The UP government, which is at the centre of the storm, had shut down 26 “illegal” slaughterhouses till the time the magazine went to press.
Just five days after the UP clampdown, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh came down heavily on the meat industry. Jharkhand’s principal secretary wrote to the state’s deputy commissioners, the police and municipalities, instructing them to close illegal slaughterhouses. Chhattisgarh issued notices to 11 mutton shops to shut down. Madhya Pradesh was next in the queue. Indore’s municipal corporation closed down an illegally operating slaughterhouse-cum-open-meat shop on March 29.
These actions against “illegal” slaughterhouses have become movements against cow slaughter. This when all the seven states already have stringent anti-cow slaughter laws. But that did not deter Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh from announcing death penalty for cow slaughter. The state already has a law that penalises cow slaughter/transport and illegal export with a punishment of up to three years in jail and/or fine up to Rs 10,000. A day after Singh’s announcement, Gujarat amended its Animal Preservation Bill to penalise cow slaughter with life imprisonment.
In Haryana, its cow protection agency Gau Seva Ayog, set up under the state department of animal husbandry, took the lead to close down “illegal” slaughterhouses. The body’s chairperson, Bhani Ram Mangla, told Down To Earth, that the state would not issue new licences to slaughterhouses and closely monitor the only two licensed slaughterhouses in the state, located in Mewat district.
As state governments became obsessed with the closure of slaughterhouses and merged this with the issue of cow protection, the fear of self-styled cow protection vigilante groups (gau rakshaks) taking law into their hands became real. In Alwar district of Rajasthan, another state that has been supporting the closure of slaughterhouses, a dairy farmer was lynched on March 31 under the suspicion of transporting cows to slaughterhouses. The incident prompted the Supreme Court to send notices on April 7 to the Centre and six states—Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Jharkhand—to respond as to why gau rakshaks should not be banned. The notices were issued during a hearing in a case that was filed by Congress leader Tehseen Poonawalla in 2016 calling for a ban on cow vigilante groups.
At the same time, there are reports of excesses by government officials in enforcing the closure notice. Down To Earth travelled to UP and found that the situation on the ground was much more complex than the seemingly simple closing of illegal slaughterhouses. Just days after the UP government order, Nagar Nigam officials in UP’s Banda district bulldozed all the 128 meat shops in the district—many of which had valid licences issued by the Nagar Nigam itself. “My licence is valid till 2020. Yet the officers demolished my shop,” says a meat seller, who had opened the meat shop after retiring from the Army in 2003. The government should have at least served the mandatory notice to the meat shop owners before carrying out the demolition drive, he adds. A similar story was narrated by another meat seller in Fatehpur district. He says a Nagar Nigam officer visited his home and advised him not to open the shop till the time things returned to normal.
To understand how such things came to pass will require probing a few mysteries.
The first mystery is what is ‘beef’? While this term is used both for buffalo and cow meat, the legal provisions (more on it later) used to shut down slaughterhouses do not even mention this word. The lack of a legal definition of beef has not only added vagueness to the cow protection laws, but given a push to self-appointed vigilantes to fill the gap left by the law. Things get complicated further as cow slaughter is permitted in six states across the country—Kerala, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Lakshadweep and West Bengal. Five other states—Goa, Daman & Diu, Himachal Pradesh, UP and Odisha—allow cow slaughter for research or when an animal is diseased. Two states—Chhattishgarh and Madhya Pradesh—have a complete ban on both cow and buffalo slaughter. In Rajasthan, the law uses the word bovine, but defines it to include only cow and its progeny.
The second mystery is what India eats? While the country maintains production and export data on meat produced from various kinds of animals, it does not have such data on domestic consumption. So, the country has little idea of its domestic meat consumption and whether it is increasing or decreasing over the years. However, if a simple calculation is made, this is, if the total exports are deducted from the total production of meat in the country, it turns out that every Indian eats roughly 4 kg of meat annually or 11 grams a day. This is substantially lower than the meat-based diet standard of 100 grams per person per day. But still this is only a gross estimate as there could be meat that is grown and consumed locally.
There are only two government figures relating to India’s meat-eating behaviour and both hide more than they reveal. The report of the 68th round National Sample Survey Office, published in 2011-12, provides data on the share of “eggs, fish and meat” in a household’s daily protein intake. According to this report, the share of meat, fish and egg in protein intake was only 7 per cent in rural India and 9 per cent in urban India.
The Census of India’s sample registration system baseline survey of 2014 has information on the prevalence of vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism in India. Over 71 per cent of the Indians above the age of 15 are non-vegetarian, says the report, which had a sample size of 8,858 households across the country. This study is obviously not representative enough to make a qualified statement about what India really eats.
But there is data on exports. Buffalo meat is a big revenue earner for India. In 2016, India exported around 1.47 million tonnes of buffalo meat that generated Rs 26,000 crore of revenue, higher than what the country earned from exporting basmati rice. This data is from the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), the licensing body for export-oriented slaughterhouses and processing units. Buffalo meat accounts for 25 per cent of the country’s total meat exports and is the biggest revenue generator among all exported agriculture products. UP alone earned Rs 11,000 crore in 2016 from buffalo meat export.