The UP government must uphold the rule of law, not use the law to punish a community that does not vote for it
“The CM was warm. He was kind enough to meet us. He told us categorically that he is not against any trade or business but he will not tolerate any illegality.” This is how Sirajuddin Qureshi, describes their half-hour meeting with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath on March 30, eleven days after the latter was sworn in, following the BJP’s strong victory in the state elections.
Qureshi is president of the All India Jamiat-ul Quresh, an association representing the 50-million-strong Qureshi Muslim sect, which has traditionally engaged in the meat trade. He also owns a slaughterhouse in Aligarh, which he claims was UP’s first modern abattoir.The meeting was about the drive against illegal slaughterhouses, which the BJP had vowed to act against in its election manifesto. The catch is that the state government is responsible for the illegality which the chief minister will not brook. All the licensed slaughterhouses that cater to domestic demand in UP, as in other states, are owned and operated by panchayats or municipal bodies. Each of the state’s 75 districts has one or more of them, says Qureshi. As they cannot meet demand, unlicensed slaughter is rampant.
According to the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters’ Association (AIMLEA) there are more than 4,000 slaughterhouses in the country. Only 389 of them are licensed and almost all of them (that do not cater to export demand) are in a mess. For the government to punish meat traders, many of whom earn just the daily wage for the failure of the government to comply with regulations is quite unfair.
Even those who wish to operate legally have been caught in the mesh. Officials would not renew the licence of Saeed Ahmed, a goat meat vendor of Lakhimpur Kheri in UP. While directing the municipal corporation to take a decision on the licence renewal application within a week, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court observed on 3 April that “inaction of the state government in the past should not be a shield for imposing a state of almost (total) prohibition.”
The BJP government says it is following the orders of the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal regarding prevention of cruelty to animals, observance of food safety standards and discharge of effluents. These orders were passed on various occasions from 2012 onwards but states have done little to enforce them. The court said, in the absence of facilities for the humane treatment of animals and their slaughter in hygienic conditions, “the trade may face complete prohibition” which would affect livelihoods impinging on the right to life.
In the normal course, meat shops and slaughterhouses would be inspected, and notices of deficiencies given with an order to rectify them within a certain period of time. “Closure is the last resort,” says DB Sabharwall, secretary-general of AIMLEA.
Officials seem to be spoiling for a chance to close down meat establishments, perhaps to show their loyalty to the new administration. Slaughterhouses have to comply with more than two dozen rules and regulations. Operators do not know which infarction will invite closure. “They have to define what is illegal,” Sabharwall says.
“We need a number of NoCs (no objection certificates),” said Puja Sud, one of three partners in a family-owned buffalo meat export house with an abattoir in Meerut. “We are putting a list together from every department.”
Thirteen of 42 export-oriented slaughterhouses in UP have also been shut. Abattoirs for meat export are approved by Apeda, the export promotion agency, and FSSAI, the food safety standards authority. Importers also send their inspectors. India is the largest buffalo meat exporting country. In 2015-16, 1.3 million tonnes was exported, earning foreign exchange worth `26,682 cr or $4.5 billion. Vietnam is the biggest importer (for re-export to China), followed by Malaysia, Egypt and West Asia.
The meat and dairy industry are inter-twined; one cannot exist without the other because selection of good breeds through natural mating or artificial insemination and culling of unproductive animals is essential to increase milk yield. Farmers will not keep animals if they cannot retire unproductive ones. The prohibition on cow slaughter (and less fat content in their milk) has led to the country’s cattle population remaining stagnant at about 20 million between 1997 and 2012. It had declined to 18.88 million in 2007. Three-quarters of the cattle are female, which means males are culled. Since there is no ban on buffalo slaughter (and because their milk has more fat), their population has risen by 61% between 1996 and 2012 to 30.62 million.
Livestock contributed the most to UP’s agricultural growth between 2000-01 and 2013-14, says a study by ICRIER, a Delhi-based research organisation. Milk contributed 28.9% to this growth, followed by meat (5.6%). The ICRIER study does not emphasise the meat industry in its summary of recommendations.
But the emphasis can be inferred from the importance it gives to livestock, especially dairying. At 25 million tonnes a year, UP is the largest producer of milk. To increase milk productivity, the state must replace poor yielders with pure breeds or cross-breeds and technology must be used for sex selection so that the share of females in the bovine population increases, the study says. It calls upon the UP government to modernise its municipal slaughterhouses. This will ensure hygienic meat without polluting water and soil and also boost the state’s economic growth, the paper authored by Smriti Verma, Ashok Gulati and Siraj Hussain says.
The meat industry has also been tardy is adopting food safety standards. Few meat shops availed of a grant to install deep freezers and air-conditioners, says S K Ranjhan, an 82-year-old veterinarian and director of a Punjab-based buffalo meat export house. In the four years to March 2016, the government gave `27 crore for modernisation of municipal abattoirs. Of the slaughterhouses that took the grant, six were in Andhra Pradesh; none was from UP.
Qureshi’s experience with setting up an abattoir in public private partnership has been less than happy. In 2009, he established one in Perambur at a cost of `50 crore on the Chennai Corporation’s invitation. He has an agreement to operate it for 22 years, but has not been unable to run it, despite completion in 2010, because of local political opposition.
At its meeting in Lucknow on April 6, the Jamiat called upon the UP government to reopen slaughterhouses, renew licenses and assure protection for animal transporters. It even offered to set up and run goshalas or cow shelters as a goodwill gesture. “We will be more faithful and sincere,” says Qureshi.The UP government, in short, must uphold the rule of law, not use the law to punish a community that does not vote for it.