Meat Matters

Why slaughterhouses have to be "illegal" to be sustainable and why farmers have to give up their cattle for survival

 
By Jitendra, Ishan Kukreti
Last Updated: Thursday 20 April 2017 | 12:28:25 PM
The Bakarganj weekly animal market in Uttar Pradesh's Fatehpur district wears a deserted look. Over 800 head of cattle used to be traded every week at the market before the slaughterhouse ban on March 22 (Photo: Vikas Choudhary)
The Bakarganj weekly animal market in Uttar Pradesh's Fatehpur district wears a deserted look. Over 800 head of cattle used to be traded every week at the market before the slaughterhouse ban on March 22 (Photo: Vikas Choudhary) The Bakarganj weekly animal market in Uttar Pradesh's Fatehpur district wears a deserted look. Over 800 head of cattle used to be traded every week at the market before the slaughterhouse ban on March 22 (Photo: Vikas Choudhary)

Meat matters

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.

Meat mystery

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.

Just two days after the Uttar Pradesh government's order,
local authorities bulldozed all the
128 meat shops in
Banda district

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.

Mystery of rules: what is legal?

The next big confusion over the meat trade is the slaughterhouse itself. Starting from transporting animals to how and where to slaughter, to processing the meat for export, there is a plethora of laws. And these laws are to be implemented at all the tiers of government: central, state and local government. The regulations governing slaughterhouses can broadly be divided into two categories: those dealing with the animals and those with the infrastructure. While many guidelines overlap, the ones dealing with the animals are the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughter House) Rules, 2001, implemented by local governments such as municipalities and panchayats; and the Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses), Regulations, 2011, enforced by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). The environmental standards fall under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, and are implemented by the state pollution control boards. The Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) had previously set two standards, defining effluent discharge, which was allowed based on the number of animals slaughtered. Under this standard, any establishment which slaughtered 70 tonnes of live weight per day, or roughly 466 big animals per day, was allowed lower discharge as compared to those who slaughtered smaller number of animals. However, on April 10, 2017, MoEF&CC has notified new standards for effluent discharge from such establishments. Now the distinction between big and small slaughterhouses has gone. All units have been given a stringent standard of 30 mg/l biological oxygen demand (BOD)—reduced from 500 and 100 mg/l BOD. In addition, new standards for chemical oxygen demand (COD) at 250 mg/l, and suspended solids up to 50 mg/l and oil and grease up to 10 mg/l have been set. The question now is the implementation of these standards, which will be applicable to all slaughterhouses and meat-processing units across the country.

A closer look at the laws shows inherent contradictions, even at the fundamental level of how to define a slaughterhouse. The 2011 FSSAI regulations define a slaughterhouse as a food business operator which slaughters large and small animals, including sheep and goat or poultry birds, within the premises of a factory for production of meat/meat products for supply/sale/distribution. According to this definition, the neighbourhood meat shop can be termed a slaughterhouse as it slaughters chickens. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughter House) Rules define it “as a slaughter house wherein 10 or more than 10 animals are slaughtered per day”.

As soon as the animal is bought, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughter House) Rules comes into play. The rules prohibit slaughtering any animal that is pregnant, is less than three months old, has an offspring that is less than three months old and is not certified to be fit for slaughter by a veterinary doctor. Once the eligibility of the animal is taken care of, the rules go into details about the infrastructure of a slaughterhouse. The structure should have a “reception” area for the incoming animals as well as “lairages”, where the housed animals can rest. “The space provided in the pens of such lairages shall be not less than 2.8 sq.mt. per large animal and 1.6 sq.mt. per small animal,” section 5 (3) specifies. Moreover, according to section 5 (4) of the law, the lairage has to be built in a way that it can “protect the animals from heat, cold and rain.”

The law has provisions for everything from the lighting and ventilation in the building to interior walls. “(The) interior walls shall be smooth and flat and constructed of impervious materials such a glazed brick, glazed tile, smooth surface Portland cement plaster, or other non-toxic, non-absorber material applied to a suitable base,” the law says.

A 70-year-old marginal farmer in Banda district is ready to sell his cow and a calf for a mere Rs 2,500. He needs the cash, but there are no buyers at the animal market following the ban of illegal slaughterhouses

It adds, “No person who is suffering from any communicable or infectious disease shall be permitted to slaughter an animal.” If interpreted in strict terms, a person suffering even from the common cold will not be allowed to slaughter a chicken in the neighbourhood shops.

Once the local government agency—pancha yat, zilla parishad or municipal corporation—issues a No Objection Certificate to a slaughterhouse owner on the guidelines enlisted under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughter House) Rules, the FSSAI regulations take over. It divides a slaughterhouse into three different categories—one, manu-facturers who slaughter up to two large or 10 small animals, or 50 poultry (petty food manufacturer); two, those who slaughter up to 50 large or 150 small animals or 1,000 poultry birds per day; and third, those who slaughter more than that. As per the rules, petty manufacturers need a registration certificate and a photo identity card from a “registering authority, who can be a food safety officer or any official in Panchayat, Municipal Corporation or any other local body or Panchayat in an area, notified as such by the State Food Safety Commissioner”. Manufacturers who fall under the second category need a licence from state/UT Licensing Authority, who can be a designated officer appointed by the Food Safety Commissioner of a State or UT. Manufacturers who fall under the third category need a licence from the “Central Licensing Authority”, a designated officer appointed by the chief executive officer of FSSAI.

The certificate for petty manufacturer should be issued in 30 days and the registering authority should conduct an inspection at least once a year. In the other two categories, a manufacturer can take a licence for a period of one to five years. These manufacturers, however, need to file a return furnishing details on business and operations every year with the respective licensing authorities. The rules for the third category are also applicable to processing units equipped to handle 500 kg meat per day or 150 million tonnes a year, or those who export 100 per cent of their product, or have units in two or more states. The FSSAI rules also say that animals need to be stunned before they are slaughtered to “avoid and minimise reactions of fear and anxiety as well as pain, suffering and distress among the animals concerned”.

The problem with the rules is how to monitor them especially because some are too subjective in nature and others are too specific. For example, a petty manufacturer should “be located in a sanitary place” and if the premises are used “to conduct food business” it should have “adequate space for manufacturing and storage to maintain overall hygienic environment… proper drainage system and ade- quate provisions for drainage”. The rules also say, “The speed of truck transporting animals shall not exceed 40 kilometres per hour, avoiding jerks and jolts. The truck shall not load any other merchandise and shall avoid unnecessary stops on the road.” The rules also prevent people from making “high pitch sounds such as whistling and yelling” to “spare distress to animals”.

After getting an FSSAI nod, a slaughterhouse needs to get an approval from the state pollution control board, as per the emission standards mentioned under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Slaughterhouses that want to export need an additional certification from APEDA.

So, what is clear is that there is a plethora of laws to govern meat production, so that animals are transported properly; slaughtering of animals is humane; that hygiene is maintained and that effluents are under check. The problem is the implementation of these laws—both because agencies that are required to do all the paper and leg work are severely understaffed and practically on their last legs. The other problem is that nobody has assessed how feasible these regulations are in a country, where domestic meat production needs to be affordable and is managed by local farmers, petty meat manufacturers and retailers. Can this informal domestic trade be governed better and how? This should have been the question. But unfortunately, in the heat of this summer of 2017, it is not. It is for this reason that government officials are shutting down “illegal” slaughterhouses on flimsy grounds as they are operating under political pressure, says a member of the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association. On March 25, for example, three slaughterhouses were closed in UP’s Sambhal district due to faults in CCTV cameras. “Sometimes pollution certificate is not renewed by the government,” he says.

"Illegality" is the nature of the game

“There is illegality at every level,” says a senior officer with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). But this “illegality” actually sustains and makes the meat trade profitable. A legal slaughterhouse requires a huge investment and the processing units prefer cheap meat, which they can source only from illegal slaughterhouses. While a slaughterhouse can be set up with an investment of Rs 6-7 crore, making it comply with regulations, increases the cost substantially. “An integrated slaughterhouse spread over 2 ha costs over Rs 12.5 crore,” says a former CPCB scientist (See ‘An expensive proposition’,).



Consider this. There are 79 APEDA-approved abattoirs-cum-meat-processing plants and 34 meat-processing plants in the country. As per the law, the processing units should procure meat from APEDA-approved slaughterhouses. But in reality, they procure the raw material from municipal-run slaughterhouses that do not have APEDA approval and from illegal small slaughterhouses. “These processing units also put pressure on the slaughterhouses who then illegally slaughter more to meet the targets,” says the CPCB official.

The owner of a meat-processing unit that has an APEDA certification told Down To Earth his unit procures meat from three municipal slaughterhouses in UP. He says this is because most APEDA-approved slaughterhouses have processing units of their own. “Five years ago, we had applied for a slaughterhouse licence, but the application is pending with the district collector, even after we have received no-objection certificates from 11 departments,” he says.

Data available with APEDA and the Union department of animal husbandry highlights the scale of illegality in the export sector. India’s total meat export in 2015-16 was 1.8 million tonnes. This means that each of the 79 APEDA-approved slaughterhouses slaughtered 23,000 tonnes of meat that year. Back-of-the-envelope calculation by Down To Earth shows that this comes down to 63 tonnes of meat per day or slaughtering 1,260 head of cattle (according to CPCB, the meat yield from a cattle is 35 per cent of its average live weight of 150 kg) in each one of them. Although APEDA website does not mention the capacity of the individual slaughterhouses, this is an impossible feat to achieve because slaughtering is a lengthy process.

As per the 2011 FSSAI regulations, animals have to be kept in the lairage (holding area for cattle) of the slaughterhouse for 12 hours before being slaughtered. During this period, the animals are given only water to remove the microorganisms in the guts which can cause infections. Then, a veterinary doctor has to perform ante- and post-mortem tests individually on each animal. A senior official with the UP department of urban development says that the process takes five minutes. This means checking 1,260 animals will take 105 hours. Unfortunately, there are only 24 hours in a day and the labour laws restrict the work day to eight hours. Moreover, there is an acute shortage of veterinary doctors across the country. “Around 25 per cent of veterinary doctors’ positions in UP government are vacant. Slaughterhouses have their own team of doctors for anti-mortem and post-mortem. Government doctors supervise these teams on regular basis,” says Amrendra Nath Singh, director, UP animal husbandry department. The existence of the illegal market is understandable because the licensed slaughterhouses do not have the capacity to meet the domestic demand. On March 3, 2015, Union Health Minister J P Nadda informed the Rajya Sabha that the country has just 62 FSSAI-approved slaughterhouses. The list says 21 out of 36 states and union territories do not have a single legal slaughterhouse.

In fact, Delhi, in 2008, had cracked down on all illegal slaughterhouses in the Jama Masjid area and shifted them to a modern slaughterhouse in Ghazipur. However, a slaughterhouse owner whose shop was shifted to Ghazipur says that the slaughterhouse caters to less than 25 per cent of the city meat demand. “People slaughtered animals quite irresponsibly in Jama Masjid. Now it has improved a lot. But we need at least three more slaughterhouses of this size to meet the domestic demand,” he says.

The issue also is the cost of such a modern slaughterhouse. The Ghazipur slaughterhouse currently runs on a public-private partnership model between the East Delhi Municipal Corporation and meat export house Allanasons Pvt Ltd. Under the agreement, Allanasons has to operate two shifts to meet the needs of local traders, who bring animals for slaughter. The capacity of the plant is 1,500 big animals—buffaloes—each day. For slaughter, local traders pay Rs 450 of their buffalo and less for each goat that they bring. But the economics do not work, say local municipal officials. There are some 1,000 people employed in this facility and the monthly electricity bill is over Rs 50 lakh. But the private partner is expected to make it work through the use of one shift where they can slaughter animals for their sale or export. The question whether if this model can be replicated.

Tannery workers in Kanpur are worried that the slaughterhouse ban will affect the leather supply to the industry, and consequently, their jobs

One view is that instead of such large facilities, cities should plan for smaller slaughterhouses outside meat markets and the cost should be borne by all the traders. In Shimla this model is being tried for poultry. Here the government has set up a slaughterhouse to cull chicken and it caters to all the meat traders in the city. Another view is that all meat-processing units should have slaughterhouses. But all agree the current frenzy is doing more harm than good. Even the courts are trying to modulate the current situation. The Allahabad High Court on April 5, 2017, said, “Compliance of law should not end in deprivation (of people).” The order came in a writ petition filed by Saeed Ahmad, a retail meat shop owner in UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri district, who claims that the government had refused to renew his licence that expired on March 31 because of the ongoing drive against “illegal” slaughterhouses. The High Court also struck down the state government’s justification that the raids were carried out in accordance with a 2014 Supreme Court order. In the 2014 Laxmi Narain Modi v Union of India case, the apex court had ordered the setting up of state- level committees to supervise and monitor guidelines related to the sector. While UP has set up the committee, it has, like most states, failed to regularise the sector. “The inaction of the state government in the past should not be a shield for imposing a state of almost prohibition,” said the high court.

Incomes on hold

The current crackdown on “illegal” slaughterhouses, along with the incidents of vandalism by vigilante groups, has also affected the farmers. A 60-year-old marginal farmer from UP's Banda district told Down To Earth that his wife had committed suicide and he was hoping to sell his male buffalo to a slaughterhouse to arrange money for her last rites. But he was unable to find a buyer in the village or at the animal market 12 km away. Government action had struck fear into the hearts of those engaged in animal slaughter and meat sale, keeping them away from the markets.

After consecutive droughts in 2014 and 2015, the monsoon of 2016 had brought hope to the farmer that he could pay off his old debts from this year’s bountiful crop. He owns barely half a hectare of land, so he leased another hectare and sowed wheat and pulses. But in February this year, stray cattle entered his unfenced fields and destroyed half of the crop. “My wife was expecting a better yield and better prices this year. Despite being ill, she used to assist me in the fields and did not want to burden the family with medical expenses. But the crop damage dashed her hopes,” he says.

The fear of stray cattle is such that farmers in the region refuse to sleep at night and guard their fields instead. An official estimate states that there are nearly 0.35 million stray and sick cattle (cows and bulls) in the four districts of the Banda division alone. According to the 19th Livestock Census, Uttar Pradesh has more than one million stray cattle, the second highest in India after Odisha. With cow slaughter being banned in the state since 1955, owners often abandon their old and unproductive animals due to the lack of cheap fodder. “The cattle come in groups of 40-50 at a time,” says another farmer from his village.

Livelihoods at stake

Livestock rearing forms an integral part of the village economy, with both large and marginal farmers keeping animals to supplement their income and secure them against crop losses and other contingencies. According to the National Sample Survey Office report on agricultural households released in 2014, 12 per cent of the farmers’ average monthly income of Rs 6,421 comes from livestock.

With no takers for his buffalo, the farmer whose wife killed herself may now have to let the animal go astray. “Feeding a cow or buffalo is an expensive affair. It requires at least five kg of dry straw worth Rs 50 every day,” he says. The cost of keeping a buffalo, excluding manual labour and costly feed, comes to around Rs 30,200 a year, which is just half of a farmer’s annual income of Rs 77,112.

Fearing that government action will make animal sale more difficult in the future, other farmers have begun distress-selling of their livestock, which means selling them off at throwaway prices. A 70-year-old marginal farmer from a village in Banda district walked 7 km to the weekly market only to find it “empty”. He had come to sell his cow and calf for as low as Rs 2,500. “It is time to harvest the crop. We require cash to pay for labour and the transport of grains. But there are no buyers,” he says.

Once animals are sold by the farmers, they pass through several hands before they land on our dinner plate. The largest group of those employed in meat sale consists of traders and middlemen, who buy the animals from farmers and sell them to slaughterhouses.

Though the BJP government in UP insists it is following court orders, local media reports suggest that the ban has affected the licensed slaughter of buffaloes, goats and chickens too.

All is quiet at the weekly “Sunday” market in Banda town which sees a weekly trade of 150-200 buffaloes and some milch animals worth around Rs 20 lakh. Traders sit in groups and discuss news reports of violence against animal traders. “When the new government came to power, business first slowed down and then stopped,” says the owner of the market. Another weekly market in Bakarganj in Fatehpur district is also empty on a Friday. More than 800 animals worth around Rs 2 crore are traded at the market every week. “I took a buffalo from a farmer in Himmatnagar village and walked 20 km to the market,” says a 32-year-old trader from the district. “But there were no buyers. I gave it back to the farmer and asked him to wait till the situation improves.”

The ban has affected some of the poorest and most oppressed communities in the Indian caste hierarchy. For instance, men of the Kaparia community, whose traditional occupation is broom making, are now mostly involved in animal trade. On March 24, a Kaparia group claimed that the police had seized their buffaloes and extorted Rs 40,000 without returning the animals. Now, other community members from a village in Banda district have decided to stay clear of animal markets. “We do not have money to pay the police. We will be sent to jail,” says a Kaparia animal trader.

Shunned by most communities, the job of slaughtering is relegated to those who are at the lowest end of the social hierarchy. A slaughterer from the Muslim Qureshi community in Fatehpur district used to slaughter four to six buffaloes every week for Rs 500 each. But now, he fears he will be nabbed by the police. “On March 24, I was robbed by goons of Bajrang Dal while returning from the market. They were shouting and accusing me of cow slaughter,” he says. There are 25 Qureshi households in his village. The village head did not allow Down To Earth to enter the village and claimed that all Qureshis had fled their homes. “I don’t think the situation will improve soon so I am asking them to look for another source of livelihood,” he says. Yet, he admits that buffalo meat is an important part of the village diet. “It is cheaper than mutton, chicken and fish. We cannot afford any other meat in our wedding feasts,” he says.

Animal slaughter is practised by Hindu communities too. A Khatik slaughterer and meat shop owner says, “My shop was closed down even though I have a licence. There are rumours that I also sell cow and buffalo meat. But I sell only goat meat.” The Chikwa community also slaughters sheep and goat for a living. And given India’s peculiar caste system, the Chikwas can be either Hindu or Muslim. A Hindu Chikwa slaughterer and seller says, “My licence has not been renewed though I applied for it six months ago.” A Muslim Chikwa slaughterer says business has collapsed since the ban. “We used to earn Rs 500 a day by slaughtering goats. Now our earnings have stopped.”

Overall, the meat industry provides direct employment to more than 2.5 million people, according to the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association. The number of those indirectly affected by the ban is estimated to be much higher.

Incidents of vandalism and harassment have also affected those involved in the trade of milch animals. For instance, two trucks carrying 26 milch buffaloes were seized by vigilantes and shifted to open cowsheds on the outskirts of Banda town. The caretaker of the buffaloes says, “There is no facility of fodder and water for the animals at the shed. It will affect their milk yield and the buffaloes will fetch a low price.” The animals would have sold for more than Rs 12 lakh.

Even tanneries have been impacted by the slaughterhouse ban. A man, who works at a tannery in Kanpur, cycles 60 km to and fro from Unnao every day. “There are no jobs in Unnao and I have a family of six to feed,” he says. All 50 households in his village in Unnao depend on Kanpur’s tanneries, some of the oldest and largest in the country. The Small Tanneries Association estimates that illegal slaughterhouses provide around 40 per cent of all leather to small and medium enterprises and 10-20 per cent to big leather industries. The leather industry employs nearly half a million people in Kanpur alone.

Reality check

While the government must ensure that the meat industry meets all food safety and environment norms, it must caution against misinformation. BJP’s election manifesto for Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections 2017 had stated that livestock numbers had fallen during the previous government because of illegal slaughterhouses. But the 19th Livestock Census of 2012 shows that Uttar Pradesh’s cattle population increased by 2.4 per cent and buffalo population by 16 per cent compared to 2007.

Livestock is an important source of livelihood for the state’s poor and curbs on animal trade will reduce the income of the rural population. A farmer from Banda says, “When the animals become unproductive, farmers replace them with productive animals. If the atmosphere of fear persists, the whole state will face the problem of stray animals and farmers will shy away from keeping milch animals. This will lead to a decrease in the state’s milk production.” With the Yogi Adityanath-led government promising to double the income of farmers in the next five years, it is the livestock economy that can provide the much-needed momentum.

Down To Earth has not revealed the names of several people quoted in the story because of the sensitive nature of the issue

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Related Story:

You can’t deprive people of food, livelihood: HC on UP slaughterhouse crackdown

Rs 11,607 crore, the cost of feeding unproductive cattle in India

Go Gokul gone

IEP Resources:

Order of the Allahabad High Court regarding closure of slaughter houses in Uttar Pradesh, 03/04/2017

Order of the National Green Tribunal regarding slaughter houses running illegally in Uttar Pradesh and primarily relates to Gaziabad, Meerut and Hapur, 12/05/2015

Hundred and fifty-first report on the petition praying for review of meat export policy

Draft Order on Meat and Poultry Products on the Indian Market

National Livestock Policy, 2013

Key indicators of household consumer expenditure in India 2011-2012

19th livestock census – 2012: all India report

Overview of the indian buffalo meat value chain

We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.