A behind-the-scene look at how slaughterhouses in India dispose hazardous bio-waste by endangering the environment

-- Animal parts strewn all over the place; dogs and vultures preying over these wretched remains; dirt festering all around; horrible stench that makes your innards wrench with revulsion. Check out the meat you eat. For such horrific features are common to most slaughterhouses in the country.

Most abattoirs across the country dispose of their waste in the most hazardous manner, pollute land, air and water and make lives of those living in their immediate vicinity miserable. Residents living in immediate environs of many slaughterhouses in the country often complain of blood trickling out of their taps. State governments have tried out various remedies such as effluent treatment plants (ETP), rendering plants and relocating slaughterhouses. But nothing has worked.

Why is the problem so unmanageable? According to a report published by the New Delhi-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), Vatavaran in 2000 -- A peep into legal and illegal slaughterhouses -- as against 3,600 legal slaughterhouses in the country there are 32,000 illegal ones. And these are conservative figures. Worse still, none checks the quality of meat coming out of these slaughterhouses. "A manager of a well-known slaughterhouse recently told me that even if they find meat unfit for human consumption, they still sell it," says Laxminarain Modi, managing trustee, Bharatiya Cattle Resource Development Foundation, New Delhi.

Some private slaughterhouses like Mumbai's Al Kabeer Exports Private Limited show signs of improvement. The company claims to be using biomethanation to treat waste and utilise energy. But this company is a rare exception.
Filthy Idgah Unhygienic conditions abound around Idgah -- Delhi's principal slaughterhouse. It is spread over seven acres in the Sadar Bazaar area of the city and around 2500 sheep, goats and buffaloes are slaughtered here everyday. The slaughterhouse gets its livestock from a nearby animal farm. The animals are supposed to undergo a thorough health check up before being slaughtered. "After slaughtering the meat is again checked and stamped by MCD. Only stamped meat can be sold in the market," informs the manager of Idgah. Health check ups include checking the animals' general appearance, heart rate, temperature and respiration. The animals are also tested for viral (such as rabies), bacterial (such as anthrax) and paraxial (such as red water) diseases. But admits a local vet, these check ups are cursory. He also complains that Idgah does not have a laboratory to conduct proper testing.

Idgah generates waste amounting to 60-70 tonnes per day (TPD). And it has no effluent treatment plant (ETP) to treat this waste. The Vatavaran study found that as against the permissible slaughtering limit of 2,500 animals, around 8000 animals were butchered in Idgah everyday. The study also showed that there were 15, 000 illegal slaughterhouses in Delhi, most of them in the vicinity of the legal one. Another study by the New Delhi-based NGO Centre for Environment Education reported that of a total of 297 TPD of slaughterhouse waste generated everyday in Delhi, 223 TPD is from illegal slaughterhouses. The waste from these dens of unhygiene is not accounted for and get disposed in nearby by lanes and low lying areas, choking sewer lines and spreading infection.
Will MCD or won't MCD Pollution from Idgah slaughterhouse is of such an enormous nature that in 1992 a public interest litigation was filed in the Supreme Court of India. Since then many directions have been issued, including shutting down of the slaughterhouse or its relocation to Loni in North Delhi, but nothing much has been achieved so far.

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) which owns the Idgah slaughterhouse, has ambitious plans to modernise and mechanise this 100-year old unit and equip it with an ETP and a rendering plant (to make animal feed from waste). Also the livestock market, next to the Idgah, would be shifted to Ghazipur, where another rendering plant of 15 TPD capacity is expected to come up. MCD officials are however completely at sea about this project; different officials have different versions of the plan. For instance, the director of MCD, Rakesh Mehta claims that MCD will be selling the blood of the animals slaughtered at Idgah to pharmaceutical companies. But his fellow officials informed Down To Earth (DTE) that there is a ban on such a practise.

Moreover, there are grave doubts on MCD's capacity to modernise Idgah. It is scheduled to be completed by September 2003. But MCD officials admit that there is no way they can keep with the schedule. "It has been years since the Supreme Court directed MCD to modernise Idgah, but nothing has happened. Where is the sanctity of court, when in spite of its strict orders, more than 2,500 animals slaughtered daily at Idgah?" questions Camellia Satija, founder trustee of New Delhi-based NGO, Kindness to Animals and Respect for Environment.

Aligarh's slaughterhouse woes
A DTE correspondent recently visited Aligarh to check its kattighar (slaughterhouse). And came back with a gory story. The Aligarh office of Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board ordered shutting down of the kattighar in November 2002. But the Nagar Nigam Aligarh (NNA) has not yet acted on the order. It has in fact contracted out the slaughterhouse located in Makdoomnagar to a private contractor, who has further sub-contracted it to three butchers and the NNA is not even aware of this! The municipal body on its part earns Rs 12 lakh per annum from the private contractor.

The three butchers carry out the slaughtering not in the kattighar premises but in three private godowns, which have no arrangement for drinking water and are poorly ventilated. "The minimum we expect from NNA is to provide us with drinking water," says a butcher. One butcher slaughters about 70 buffaloes everyday. At least 2,500 buffaloes are slaughtered in these godowns daily and the meat is supplied to various cities such as Aligarh, Khurja, Mathura and even to Delhi.

As per the Uttar Pradesh Nagar Nigam Act, 1955, all animals to be slaughtered have to undergo a health check up. But Aligarh kattighar follows no such rules. And NNA officials admit to this. Some of the waste such as hides and wastes are sold to private parties and the rest is dumped as landfill at Makdoomnagar.

If woes inflicted by its legal abattoir was not enough, numerous illegal abattoirs -- often housed in individual households -- are compounding Aligarh's misery. In colonies, such as Sarai Rahman, almost 80 per cent households slaughter buffaloes. These are two room tenements with a shop in front, where at five in the morning, a buffalo is slaughtered in one of the rooms. According to rough estimates, a buffalo weighs about two quintals and almost 25 per cent of its total body weight becomes waste. Apart from that, one buffalo generates 10 litres of waste blood. All this waste is just washed off into the drain, clogging the sewer lines. "We cannot ban illegal slaughtering till the time we do not provide them with a better abattoir. Our own kattighar is in a bad shape," says Savitri Varshney, mayor, Aligarh.

Aligarh's officialdom believes that privatising the kattighar will improve matters. "We need a carcass utilisation plant, which will process bones and generate revenue. The animal fat can be sold to companies to make cosmetic cream. But to set up such a plant we require Rs one crore. If the state government provides us with money, we will proceed forward," says B N Dube, assistant municipal commissioner, NNA. Satyendra Misra, municipal commissioner, NNA has already forwarded a proposal for modernisation of the kattighar to the state government. "We have invited tenders from private parties for development of the kattighar. NNA will only provide the land to the private operator who will take care of the rest" says Misra

But privatisation is not a sure panacea for all slaughterhouse ills. Take the case of the one owned by Hind Agro Industries Limited at Chherat village near Aligarh. Although the company officials claimed that the wastewater disposed by the slaughterhouse meets all norms prescribed by the Central Pollution Control Board, a completely different picture emerged when DTE correspondent spoke with nearby villagers. Ajit Singh, a resident of Chherat village told DTE, "Sometimes the stench from the kattighar is so bad that we cannot eat anything. Chherat drain is dirty and clogged and many times we have seen blood flowing in it. About two years back, four buffaloes from my village drank the drain water and died within two hours. Now we do not allow our cattle to come close to this drain." The villagers complain that during monsoon, the Chherat drain overflows and dirty water spreads to their fields. Hind Agro officials say that they are setting up a biomethanation plant of 0.5 mega watt capacity, which will covert animal dung and blood into energy and manure. The plant they claim will take care of the villagers' problems.

Is there a way out
With private slaughterhouses coming up in many cities, things seem to be improving. Some experts claim the private slaughterhouse at Mourigram in Kolkata set up by Fregaerio Conserva Allana Limited in 1999 has provided some respite to the city. The fully mechanised slaughterhouse built at a cost of Rs 80 crore on an area of about 46 acre has a capacity to slaughter 1,500 buffaloes per day. It has an ETP to treat five lakh litres of wastewater per day and a rendering plant to process four tonnes per hour of animal waste. Apart from Kolkata, the company has set up slaughterhouses at Ghaziabad, Agra, Chandigarh, Aurangabad, New Bombay and Zaheerabad (Andhra Pradesh), informs G K Sen, in charge, Fregaerio Conserva Allana Limited, Kolkata.

But residents still complain. "Many a times the ETP does not function as prescribed and the untreated effluent is discharged into the Ganga. The rendering plant is a source of stench," says B R Pradhan, secretary of Kolkata-based NGO, Mourigram Paribesh Suraksha Committee. Ravikanth, member secretary of West Bengal Pollution Control Board dismisses these complaints as "absolutely baseless". But according to a news report, in December 2000 in The Statesman, there was an ammonia gas leak from the plant, which affected 26 people.

Experts claim that Al Kabeer's slaughterhouse set up in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh is one of the best slaughterhouses in the country. The plant has a capacity to mechanically slaughter 1,500 animals per day and process about 100 tonnes of meat per day. It has set up a biomethanation plant, which treats 60 tonnes of solid waste per day and generates energy out of it. "This energy is then used to run the refrigeration unit. Apart from energy we also get high quality manure," says Arshad Siddique, technical director, Al Kabeer, Medak, Andhra Pradesh. The ETP treats wastewater, which is being used for horticulture and pisiculture. "The fact that fish is able to survive in the treated water is proof enough that the water is safe," adds Siddique (see: 'Tangible shift', December 15, 2002). Al Kabeer is selling waste products such as hair, hides, tails, horns, etc to generate revenue. The hair is sold to make toothbrushes; hides are salted and shipped to tanneries. So the slaughterhouse is a zero waste unit.

But high water consumption still remains a big problem and the Al Kabeer unit is not immune to it. It consumes about 20 lakh litres per day of water. Hind-Agro officials claim that abattoirs need to use fresh water as they are food-processing units and quality of food is important.

Experts claim that there are technologies to reutilise waste from slaughterhouses -- so that it does not harm the environment. Biomethanation is a good way of treating slaughterhouse waste; it not only produces manure, but also generates energy. Since 1994 the Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources is running a project -- development of high rate biomethanation processes as means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions -- to promote biomethanation in the country. It was as part of this project that Al Kabeer has set up a biomethanation plant, and Hind Agro is in the process of setting up another. Ravi Agarwal, coordinator of New Delhi-based NGO Srishti claims that composting is also a good way of dealing with the waste coming out of slaughterhouses. He claims that the process though inexpensive, requires land.

The Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has nothing to say on the slaughterhouse issue. DTE contacted at least four senior officials at the ministry, but everyone was keen to shift responsibility. For instance, the DTE reporter was told that D Bandopadhyay, director, MEF, handles matters relating to slaughterhouse waste, but on contacting him, he was redirected to G V Subrahmaniam, another director at MoEF. Subrahmaniam's office again directed DTE to contact Bandopadhyay. "There is a lot of confusion about abattoir waste. It is neither municipal solid waste nor biomedical waste nor hazardous waste. It can be categorised as animal waste," says P M Ansari, Central Pollution Control Board, Delhi. In India we have separate set of rules governing solid waste, hazardous waste, biomedical waste etc -- but almost nothing on abattoir waste. It is time the government looks at abattoir waste as a real challenge and not play musical chairs with it.

With inputs from Firdous Ali and Radhika Mohan in Medak, Andhra Pradesh

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