Vishwanathan Pillai has never before felt so insecure about his job at an abattoir. His anxiety comes in the wake of on-going action that has been described by the Yogi Adityanath-led government in Uttar Pradesh as a crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses.
Pillai, 40, who works as production head at Frigerio Conserva Allana Limited -- one of the country’s biggest, and legal, slaughterhouse-cum-meat processing units – said the factory has seen 50% reduction in buffalo stock due to the crackdown and fears the “worst is yet to come”.
“The traders have stopped transporting animals from local mandis for us because they fear they would be attacked on the way. Farmers do not want to sell their spent animals because the rates have come down. I do not know who will give us jobs if they close our plant too,” said Pillai.
A father of two children who live with his wife back home, Pillai draws a salary of Rs 30,000 a month.
Spread over 45 acres in Talaspur Khurd village of Aligarh, 150 kms from the national capital, the abattoir provides employment to 2,100-odd workers, most of them Hindus. The high-pitched crackdown has found support of Hindu right-wing groups and this has made the workers, like Pillai, foresee a bleak future.
“Except butchers, who are specialised in ‘halal’ (Islamic) slaughter, the rest of the workers in almost all abattoirs are Hindus,” said an office-bearer of the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters’ Association. He did not want to be named.
In economic terms, UP accounts for nearly 50% of India’s total meat exports, a huge industry that provides livelihood to 25 lakh people, directly or indirectly. Though the chief minister has assured legal slaughterhouses would not be harmed, abattoir owners allege the administration was harassing even legal set-ups, perhaps to “please their bosses”.
“Why have they (authorities) woken up suddenly? They should have given us time to get licenses. I am jobless till I procure a license.” -- Shaban Qureshi, who runs a meat shop near Gantha Ghar in Meerut
“All our three units in Sahibabad, Aligarh and Unnao have all the clearances. But still administration officials come to harass us,” said Ayaz Siddiqui, a general manager who recently joined Allanasons after quitting a job at a five-star hotel.
Of the 72 government-approved abattoirs across the country, 38 are in Uttar Pradesh. The association puts the country’s annual meat exports at Rs 27,000 crore, which includes Rs 15,000 crore from UP.
Fearing a ban would mean a loss of least Rs 11,350 crores of revenue, the association is mulling a legal option in case the UP government passes an ordinance to ban the business.
While hundreds of ‘illegal’ slaughterhouses have been sealed across the state -- mostly in Meerut, Bulandshahr, Aligarh and Agra in western UP -- in the past one week, the crackdown has also affected business of small meat traders even in the state capital Lucknow.
Not just buffalo meat traders, those dealing with chicken, goat meat and egg have started a strike since Monday across the state in support of a strike against the crackdown.
Shaban Qureshi, who runs a meat shop near Gantha Ghar in Meerut, has not opened his shop for the past five days.
“Why have they (authorities) woken up suddenly? They should have given us time to get licenses,” asked Qureshi, who would sell 300 kg of meat per day till a week ago. “I am jobless till I procure a license,” he said.
In Sambhal, three slaughter houses, declared legal by the owners, were sealed on Saturday, because of some technical fault in the CCTV cameras, rendering 6,000 people jobless.
Among the top most condition for inviting authorities’ wrath is the health of the animals. Only ‘spent buffaloes’ discarded by farmers and having passed the checks for diseases and pregnancy are slaughtered.
“There has to be no compromise with the hygiene and health of the buffalo,” said Dr Amarjeet Singh Sidhu, the veterinary facility head of the Allana slaughter house.
To take care of hygiene, workers at this world-class slaughterhouse, draped in white uniforms with caps and gloves, de-bone the animal after slaughter. In all the 40 buildings, part of the procedure, the temperature is always maintained at 12 to 15 degrees Celsius. The meat stored in freezers is then transported in temperature sensitive containers for export.
Aware of the shortage in supply in the local markets, many slaughterhouses have lent a helping hand to small traders.
“It is not clear why only meat is being attacked. The industry is not only a source of livelihood for a particular community. So many industries like hotels and tanneries, are dependant on it,” said Siraj Qureshi, who owns a plant in Hapur.
During his first visit to Gorakhpur after being sworn in as the CM, Adityanath said on Saturday: “The government will not touch those abattoirs which are operating as per the provisions of the law and have a valid licence, adding that those violating National Green Tribunal norms on would not be spared.
But there are many who claim that the crackdown has become an excuse to target all in one sweep.