Blaming fringe elements for whipping up the beef hysteria is all very well, but when state governments get into the fray, it gives it an altogether different spin. According to a report in The Indian Express, the Rajasthan government has gone ahead and amended its investment promotion scheme to end any kind of incentive/subsidy to units that process beef—in this case, since Rajasthan does not allow the sale of cow meat, this refers to buffalo meat. Since there is no ostensible reason for removing the subsidy—it is not being removed for other products—the only plausible reason is that the state government is trying to placate some interest group that feels strongly against it; possibly, it is of the opinion that cows are being slaughtered and are being consumed/exported under the guise of buffalo meat. Either way, it just contributes to the beef hysteria. While Rajasthan is by no means the top Indian state when it comes to buffalo meat production—it had the 8th-largest production in FY13, with the list headed by Uttar Pradesh with Punjab coming second and Andhra Pradesh third—such populism tends to spread. When Arvind Kejriwal first came to power in Delhi and slashed power tariffs for those in the lowest consumption bracket, this was followed by copycat moves in some other states as well. If it is Rajasthan today, there could be a demand to scrap incentives for buffalo-processing units, or even an outright ban in, say, a state like Uttar Pradesh, especially as the state comes nearer the assembly polls in 2017.
While the move may satisfy certain groups, it has to be kept in mind that killing buffaloes and processing the meat/leather employs lakhs of people across the country—India is the world’s leader in beef exports with around $5 billion of exports in FY15. In the first half of this year, thanks to the fear created in various states like Uttar Pradesh, buffalo meat exports fell 13% in volume terms and 16% in terms of value. Apart from the loss of jobs and lucrative export contracts—India could well lose its top slot to competitors like Brazil and Paraguay—there is the question of what people are supposed to do with their buffaloes if slaughter is not to be allowed or is discouraged by removing incentives such as what Rajasthan has done. It is a pity state governments taking such decisions are not paying adequate attention to their larger consequences.