In Kerala cattle market, meat traders and farmers feel the pinch of Centre’s ban
Cattle supply from neighbouring states is drying up, Kerala traders warn of meat shortage.india Updated: Jun 11, 2017 21:39 IST
At the break of dawn, Aralammoodu Saturday cattle market is busy. Cows and buffaloes occupy most of the space, as owners and prospective buyers look to strike a bargain.
In the middle of all the haggling at the weekly cattle market, local MLA K Ansalan is administering an oath to a crowd. “Our food is our choice, our right. We will protect our food, our right come what may,” the crowd repeats after the law-maker, feverishly pumping fists in the air in true Communist style.
As the one-hour meeting draws to a close, organisers distribute small packets of raw meat to register their protest.
It is not an isolated incident.
The southern coastal state has seen a series of “beef festivals” and noisy protests after the Centre on May 23 came out with a notification banning sale and purchase of cattle from animal markets for slaughter.
Kerala and several other states have criticised the Modi government’s cattle-trade rules as a backdoor beef ban, aimed at pushing the ruling BJP’s Hindutva agenda.
Some states are planning a legal challenge to the ban that will hurt farmers and squeeze supplies to the country’s Rs 1 lakh-crore meat industry.
Cows, considered holy by many Hindus, have come to dominate political discourse after Prime Minister Narendra Modi stormed to power in 2014. Several BJP-ruled states have brought in strict laws to punish cow slaughter.
Supply drying up
The ban is already hurting farmers and meat traders.
Once a thriving cattle market, Aralammoodu in Neyyattinkara, 20km from the state capital Thiruvananthapuram, is having a slow day.
Between 500 and 700 cattle were traded here every Saturday. The 10 days that notification has been in place, supply from neighbouring Tamil Nadu has thinned the numbers to 150-200.
Traders say truck drivers refuse to ferry cattle from neighbouring states fearing right-wing activists, the self-appointed cow protectors.
“The union government is saying it is aimed at checking illegal slaughter houses and cattle smuggling. But we are doing everything legally. We have no idea why the Centre is punishing us,” said P Rahim, whose family has been in meat trade for two generations.
One of the few states where cow slaughter is not banned, Kerala relies on neighbouring Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh for cattle supply.
“Prices have gone up. If the situation continues, the state will face a severe meat shortage in coming days,” said Nisar Ahmed, who owns five meat outlets in the neighbourhood.
People like him are convinced that the new rule is aimed at minority communities, who rely heavily on the cheap red meat.
Traders say at least five truckloads of cattle were either sent back or seized by activists of the Hindu Munnani in Pollachi and Kanyakumari last week.
Local meat traders’ association members met chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and requested him to ask his Tamil Nadu counterpart to ensure the safety of cattle transporters.
Vijayan has already written to the Prime Minister opposing the ban, saying the Centre can’t dictate or change food habits.
The state government has convened a special assembly session on June 8 while in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, the Madras high court has put the ban on hold for four weeks.
Religion no bar
In Kerala, 60% of all meat consumed is beef, a cheap source of protein. Almost 60% of the population eats beef and not just Muslims and Christians, a majority of Hindus also consume buffalo and cow meat.
According to the animal husbandry department data, 1.17 million adult cattle and 70,000 young animals were slaughtered last year. Kerala consumes 2.5 lakh tonne of beef, estimated to be worth Rs 6,500 crore, every year.
“It is an unorganised sector but transactions worth lakhs of rupees do take place here. Roughly five lakh people directly or indirectly are involved in the sector,” said another trader.
In Kerala at least 80% cattle for meat are procured from livestock markets.
Cattle farmers are demanding the Centre set up “gaushalas”, or cow shelters, in every village for aged and non-lactating animals.
“Since we don’t have modern abattoirs, we trade them in the market otherwise the government has to pay money to keep them,” said Velappan Nair, who came to Aralammoodu to sell an aged cow.
For farmers, taking care of aged and non-lactating animals is a huge financial burden. Cattle markets are a good option for farmers looking to sell their animals.
“I am sad. I have to sell the cow that gave us milk for seven years. I don’t have the wherewithal to keep it and don’t have any option but to sell it for meat.” Nair said.
With new rules in play, farmers may be losing this option.