Given the preponderance of Muslims in the meat trade, the BJP’s pre-poll promise of shutting down illegal abattoirs in Uttar Pradesh (UP) was always going to be viewed with suspicion. And if a very large proportion of the 7,000 abattoirs in the country, not just in UP, are illegal, the Union and state governments over the years are mostly to blame—they have either not enforced the law for decades or the law itself is impossible to comply with due to shortage of inspectors, high incidence of bribes, unavailability of land to relocate, etc. Whatever the reason, the decision to suddenly enforce the law with gusto has endangered the state’s trade in buffalo meat—half the country’s $4 billion buffalo meat exports, bigger than basmati rice now, come from UP—and possibly close to 25 lakh jobs in the export sector as well as that which caters to the local economy including the leather one.
A related complication is that this does not recognise the impact on the dairy economy, something several experts are recommending the state focus on to enhance value addition in agriculture. With tractors taking over the tilling role over the past few decades, male animals—or low-yield female ones—are a drain on the farmer; if the ability to kill these animals is in danger, who will want to invest in the sector? Over the years, buffaloes have overtaken cows in the dairy industry due to their higher milk yield and the fact that their slaughter isn’t illegal. The impact of the ban on illegal abattoirs, if not handled with care, will go beyond the industry, and will extend to the entire economy of the state.
UP health minister Siddharth Nath Singh asking the police to not go overboard in their enthusiasm to seal abattoirs and slaughter-houses in the state that are not in compliance of the regulations is, in this context, sound advice. To be sure, abattoirs failing to conform to the various norms on hygiene standards, meat storage, disposal of remains, water use, containment and treatment of wastes and effluents from slaughter house activities, etc, do pose serious health and environment risks. What Singh has said is that the authorities need to issue a notice and give a deadline to slaughterhouses to ensure compliance.
Indeed, even this will not be enough and the state government will have to come out with a detailed and time-bound plan—like the Delhi state government did for polluting industries—to shift abattoirs to locations where their pollution is less of a problem, ensure that licences are issued without any hassles and all regulatory compliances met. Since shifting abattoirs which cannot be given compliance within the area they are operating in today will take time—even existing abattoirs may require time to be able to meet with legal requirements—the state government will have to ensure it does enough to reassure those in the meat trade that their business/livelihood interests will be taken care of. Nothing less can be expected from a party that has been voted in for its governance credentials and promise to take all communities along.