This is the second in a two-part series. Read the first part here.
We assumed they would confine themselves to cows and their slaughter. However, within 48 hours of the new BJP government assuming power in Uttar Pradesh, they began a crackdown on buffalo beef, executing with immediate effect their election manifesto promise of “shutting down illegal slaughter houses, and all mechanized slaughter houses”. Media reports from March 22, 2017 onwards, the day after the first two ‘illegal’ slaughterhouses were shut down, vary widely in their figures on the total number of slaughterhouses in UP (126-140), the number of ‘illegal slaughter houses’ (40-125), the number of slaughter houses recently shut down (20-40), the number of illegal meat shops shut down (upwards of 50,000) and so on. There has, however, been piecemeal and muddled media reporting regarding the issues of legality of slaughterhouses. We have to locate and understand ‘legality’ within two distinct marketing chains: the marketing chains for domestic beef production and those for international beef export.
Both marketing chains begin with buffaloes reared by small and marginal mixed-crop dairy farmers, who sell their culled/dry/non-productive female buffaloes (and male buffaloes) either in local markets or to a local livestock trader. The trader or market commission agent sells animals destined for the domestic market to a small/large-scale municipal slaughterhouse. Thus municipal slaughterhouses (public slaughterhouses) that are governed by panchayats/nagar palikas/ municipalities/corporations are the primary source of beef for domestic consumption. Butchers at the municipal slaughterhouses slaughter the animals, and the butchered meat is then sold to wholesalers or retailers. Wholesaler meat dealers and retailers have to obtain licenses from the municipal corporations for buying and selling meat on the premises of a municipal slaughterhouse. Informal backyard slaughter of buffaloes continues to occur sporadically, but this largely caters to limited consumption at home, with surpluses going to the local markets. Buffalo meat for domestic consumption is based on the production of fresh meat, which is processed and sold daily. Retail outlets generally are not equipped with cold-chain storage facilities. Crucially, it is the responsibility of the municipal corporations of cities to set up public (municipal) slaughterhouses and ensure they are run with all the required licenses.
As far as the beef export market chains go, animals from livestock markets or from traders are sold to an export-oriented processor that handles slaughter, processing, export marketing and logistics. These processing firms are also responsible for ensuring compliance with central and state government regulations. India’s export-oriented slaughter and processing facilities are relatively modern and large-scale, privately-run enterprises. Along with necessary licenses of municipal corporations, it is only export-oriented slaughterhouse processors which have to be registered with the APEDA (Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority), the Government of India Export Inspection Council and under the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. APEDA and its associated agencies set the export slaughter and processing facilities standards, inspect the process plants and products, renew annual registrations after inspection, enhance packaging and marketing processes, and build capacities of the export units. All export-oriented units must be certified under HACCP and ISO 9000, and be bio-secure.
There are 49 export-oriented buffalo slaughter and processing facilities, 39 exclusive processing and 11 exclusive slaughter facilities registered with the APEDA across the country. The registered integrated export slaughter units are fully equipped with lairage (accommodation for animals awaiting slaughter), stunning, slaughter line, de-hiding, splitting, washing and weighing facilities. APEDA-registered export-processing units have chilling, deboning, plate and blast freezing, modern packing and cold storage facilities.
The maximum number of municipal slaughterhouses are located in UP, where of a reported 126 slaughterhouses, 34 export-oriented slaughter-cum-processing units, six export-oriented exclusive slaughter units and 26 export-oriented exclusive processing units are registered with the APEDA. All these export units are private slaughterhouses. The remaining are not ‘illegal’ private slaughterhouses but, in fact, government-established slaughterhouses, which have to be run, maintained and regulated by the concerned panchayat, nagar palika, municipality or corporation, adhering to all required state licenses to meet domestic meat production. Under the UP Municipal Corporation Act 1959, the obligatory duties of the municipal corporation include the construction and maintenance of public slaughterhouses and regulation of all slaughterhouses in the municipality. According to another recent publication, UP has 317 registered slaughterhouses.
The so-called ‘illegal’ slaughterhouses are public municipal slaughterhouses across UP, which have been allowed to gradually sink into abysmal conditions due to the utter negligence of municipal corporation authorities, who have failed to ensure compliances of their own slaughterhouses. Lucknow’s Maulviganj municipal slaughterhouse, for example, was closed in July 2013, on orders of the UP Pollution Control Board (UPPCB), and is still not modernised, despite a tender floated in 2016. The renewal licenses issued by the municipal corporations to meat sellers is a license to buy meat from the premises of municipal slaughterhouses. As several municipal slaughterhouses were shut down, licenses of meat shops were never renewed in UP, despite their renewal applications. In the recent crackdown, thousands of such meat shops were sealed, on grounds of not having valid licenses to sell beef. The civic authorities negligence of not re-issuing licenses is now conveniently used as a reason to punish the poor meat trader.
The UP authorities are citing a National Green Tribunal (NGT) ruling of May 12, 2015, for the closure of slaughterhouses and meat shops. This particular NGT ruling is not available on the NGT or UPPCB’s websites. An NGT ruling of December 2015, (original application No 173/2015) refers to the closure of only four slaughterhouse units in different parts of UP. The UPPCB in 2015, identified 129 industrial units (including 44 slaughterhouses) deemed very hazardous for the environment. However, the BJP government chose to only go after slaughterhouses, leaving the textile and yarn units, aluminium smelter units, metal surface treatment units and pulp and paper units to continue to pollute unchecked.
The UP government’s drive is really about a shutdown of government slaughterhouses, the only beef source for domestic consumption, affecting the entire market chain comprising workers, meat sellers and consumers. In the name of ‘illegality’, their actions are clearly communal, directed to economically cripple the Muslim community, many of whom depend on the sector for their livelihood, as also force a closure of domestic beef consumption, because it does not fit in with the Sangh parivar‘s vision of ‘swacch Bharat’.
Of total Indian buffalo beef exports, 67% originates from UP. Despite this export activity, UP’s buffalo populations increased by 29% between 2007 and 2012, and female buffaloes increased by 40%. In 2015, of the total buffalo beef produced in the country, nearly 47% was domestically consumed and the remaining 53% exported. A clampdown on buffalo beef production in UP, as is currently underway, will severely impact the market chains for buffalo-rearing farmers, who will no longer have an avenue to sell their dry/culled dairy females to traders, workers, meat sellers or domestic consumers, whose cultural rights to food are under grievous threat. In the financial year 2015-16, carabeef was India’s highest earning agri-export commodity (Rs 26685.41 crore). While most export units in UP seem to have been spared closure, the BJP government’s manifesto to shut down “all mechanized slaughterhouses”, if carried through, will directly impact the entire spectrum of export units, leading to a complete collapse of India’s buffalo beef exports, dairy markets and livelihoods of marginal and small farmers.
It’s time for India’s small and marginal farmers to organise and voice their protests against this complete destruction of their agriculture livelihoods happening in the name of saving India’s ‘holy cow’ and Hindu culture. Before long, they will find all cattle becoming the monopoly of gaushalaas, who will be laughing all the way to the banks with their ‘Made in India’ fast-moving consumer goods products of cow urine and cow dung, retailed back to farmers and other gullible citizen consumers.
Sagari R. Ramdas is a trained veterinarian and works with the Food Sovereignty Alliance, India.