Slaughterhouse crackdown in UP: Butchers and farmers hit, big businesses gain
Mohammad Shafiq took solace from the large grain container placed in a corner of the room. “This will last six to nine months. At least we won’t starve now,” he said.
The 52-year-old, who lives with his family in a small hutment in a graveyard in Kanpur’s Idgah Colony, used to procure meat from the nearby government slaughterhouse and sell it by the roadside.
In March 2017, the newly-elected Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) government in Uttar Pradesh (UP) ordered action against slaughterhouses and meat-sellers operating without valid licences and violating environmental and health rules.
Across the state, numerous shops and slaughterhouses, including government-run abattoirs, were sealed, leading to severe shortage of meat and affecting the livelihoods of thousands like Shafiq who made a living by using common government abattoirs for a small fee. Essentially, failure of municipal administrations to upgrade these facilities had destroyed the vast unorganized meat industry, and hundreds of thousands of ancillary jobs.
For a while, Shafiq went back to his ancestral village with his wife and kids. There, he worked as a farm-hand even though his left hand does not function properly. “It was wheat harvesting season. I had never done that work before but with my kids’ support, I managed somehow and got 500kg grain in return,” he told IndiaSpend on a muggy June evening.
Now back in Kanpur, Shafiq hawks churan (tangy powder), tamarind and jamun around town. “Earlier my elder son used to do this work, but he suffers from night blindness. I thought I can put in more hours than him. He has now taken to buying and selling scrap. I make Rs 200-250 a day while he manages between Rs 75-125,” Shafiq said.
From meat-selling, Shafiq used to earn Rs 400-500 within three hours. “The meat, fresh from the slaughterhouse, would sell quickly. We don’t have refrigeration, so I would only buy as much as I could sell easily. Any leftovers, the family would use,” he said.
‘Illegal’ slaughterhouses: Past governments ignored issue
The Prevention and Control of Pollution (Uniform Consent Procedure) Rules of 1999 list slaughterhouses under the ‘red’ heavily-polluting category with potential to adversely impact public health.
In UP, as in the rest of the country, a range of agencies regulate slaughterhouses. Foremost among these is the state-level pollution regulator, the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB), which gives permission (“no-objection certificate”) for setting up a slaughterhouse after getting a go-ahead from the top district administrator, the District Magistrate (DM). The DM conducts a site inspection to assess compliance with various parameters, including law and order, before granting permission. Once a slaughterhouse is set up, the UPPCB monitors its functioning to ensure pollution control measures are in place.
If the facility is for export, approval is also required from the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA). Slaughterhouses must also follow thePrevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughter House) Rules, 2001, as well as obtain a license from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to ensure all animal-derived food is healthy.
Many slaughterhouses have been accused of violating norms, and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) is hearing a string of petitions seeking their upgradation or closure. In May 2015, hearing one such petition, the NGT ordered all slaughterhouses running without requisite permits in UP to be shut.
When the new BJP government assumed office in UP in March this year, it began to take action on the NGT order.
Both private and government-run slaughterhouses were shut, having failed to upgrade despite the 2015 NGT order, a previous Supreme Court order and reminders by the UPPCB.
In this partial list of 129 industrial units failing to install anti-pollution devices in 2015, 44 were slaughterhouses, 39 of which were run by municipal bodies and nagar panchayats while another was run by the Lucknow Cantonment Board. All four of capital city Lucknow’s slaughterhouses were found not to have proper treatment facilities.
According to the Uttar Pradesh Municipal Corporation Act, 1959, the construction and maintenance of public markets and slaughterhouses is an obligatory duty of the local corporation. The Allahabad High Court upheld this in an ongoing case regarding operation of slaughterhouses.
An amount of Rs 12.5 crore was sanctioned on January 3, 2017, for the modernisation of the slaughterhouse at Lucknow’s Moti Jheel, but the project got stuck when the model code of conduct for assembly elections came into force the very next day.
A similar situation prevails in other cities and towns except Agra, where the municipal corporation runs a modern abattoir.
“The responsibility of previous governments is greater than the current government. They failed to modernise the slaughterhouses for a very long time preparing the ground for the present crisis,” said Irfan Ahmad, the vice-president of the Jamiat-ul-Quresh, an organisation of slaughterhouse owners and meat and beef suppliers in Kanpur.
A comparison of the earnings and expenditures of the Lucknow and Agra municipal corporations shows how the state capital lost precious revenue by failing to modernise its slaughterhouse.
The Agra Municipal Corporation earned Rs 4.26 crore in 2014-15 from leasing out its modern slaughterhouse to a private contractor. The contractor uses the facility for export purposes and also allows individual butchers to use it for a fee of Rs 385 per buffalo. The Lucknow Municipal Corporation, in contrast, was able to charge Rs 10 as fee for slaughtering of goat/sheep and Rs 25 for buffalo, making Rs 25.33 lakh in all. Spending Rs 44.87 lakh on staff salaries, it reported a loss of over Rs 19 lakh.
A crackdown with wide reverberations
UP, India’s top meat producer in 2012-13, has felt the reverberations far and wide.
Of the 77 APEDA-approved slaughterhouses in India, 44 are in UP. In addition to these, municipal corporations and nagar panchayats (city councils) run numerous abattoirs to meet the domestic meat requirement.
UP has a famous, long-standing non-vegetarian culinary tradition, and as per the 2011-12 consumer expenditure survey of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), an average UP household reported consuming 0.17 kg of buffalo meat every month, as against the all-India average of 0.10 kg.
Some 30.6% of UP households reported they consumed non-vegetarian food, while 7.95% households reported they consumed beef or buffalo meat. The all-India average was 4.5%.
While India registered a 3.33% decline in livestock population during 2007-12, UP saw a 14% growth, indicating the economy’s dependence on livestock and allied businesses, IndiaSpend reported on March 29, 2017.
Kanpur’s Bakar Mandi slaughterhouse, from where Shafiq used to buy meat, was one of many government facilities which had not been modernised despite repeated reminders from the UPPCB.
Butchers would pay a small fee (Rs 25 for buffalo, Rs 10 for goat) to use the facility at night and the meat would be put on sale around the city by early morning.
“I support modernisation, but the government should have made an alternative arrangement before closing it down. A gradual phase-out would have helped everyone,” Shafiq said.
Danish Qureshi, 25, of Rampur town was similarly rendered jobless. He now drives a rented e-rickshaw for hire, although he considers meat-selling his family business. “My father had a licence issued by the Municipal Corporation 45 years back. I used to get it renewed every year,” he said, “Why didn’t anybody tell us we were doing business illegally?”
His bigger complaint is that the government is not helping butchers secure bank loans to upgrade their shops, a prerequisite to get FSSAI licenses. “Most of us have little by way of savings,” he said, adding, “Those with money have renovated their shops, but they form just 1% of the butcher community in Rampur.”
Farmers, associated trades take a hit
At the Sunday cattle market in Tirwa village, about 15 km from Kannauj city in central UP, very few transactions were taking place as farmers were not getting the price they were quoting.
This was largely due to enforcement of the NGT order. The more recent central government ban on sale of cattle for slaughter in cattle markets–currently on hold following a Supreme Court order–is yet to be implemented on the ground.
“Last year it was notebandi, and this year it is meat bandi that has reduced demand,” said Arjun Singh, a farmer from Achanakapur village. He was seeking Rs 50,000 for a young female buffalo, but was getting offers of Rs 32,000.
Since the slaughterhouse crackdown, farmers are unable to fetch good prices even for milch cattle because buyers are worried they will be unable to resell.
“What if a buffalo is unable to breed? No other farmer would touch it. Should we keep spending on its fodder or sell it to a slaughterhouse? Why can’t the government understand this simple logic?” asked a farmer at a cattle market in Chaubepur village near Kanpur.
Brajal Kumar Dwivedi, a young farmer from Jaisinghpura village, wanted to sell a mother-calf buffalo pair for Rs 90,000. He was getting offers of up to Rs 70,000. “I bought it last year for Rs 80,000 from Sakipur mandi, had it fed and impregnated, and am still unable to get the price I paid,” he said. Engaged to be married, Dwivedi needed money for his wedding but said he would wait a few weeks for prices to stabilise, and would sell milk to the local dairy until then.
Jaddunath Singh of Kithwa village was not so lucky–he had to sell a buffalo at a Rs 11,000 loss because he needed money for the treatment of his hospitalised father-in-law.
Those providing ancillary services are also affected. Rajendra Singh, who lets out vehicles to transport animals, was staring at another dull day. “Most farmers are taking their animals back on the vehicles they came on. Only a buyer would hire a vehicle here, but not many deals have come through. This has been the case for the last three months,” he said.
The Pechbagh hide market in Kanpur, the largest in India for buffalo skin, has also seen trade decline over the last couple of years–particularly since the 2015 mob lynching of a Muslim man, Mohammad Akhlaq, and his son, who were suspected of stealing and slaughtering a stolen cow calf, in Dadri in eastern UP.
“Fear of cow vigilantes who beat up transporters even if they are transporting only buffalo skins has scared away suppliers,” said Akhtar Hussein Akhtar, a godown owner at Pechbagh and an office-bearer of the local Hide Merchants’ Association.
Akhtar explained that large, mechanised slaughterhouses sell hides directly to big tanneries, and only those engaged in skinning dead animals sell to merchants in Pechbagh. “[Earlier] most of the supply came from government abattoirs while weekly supply from villages filled the gap.
Now whatever raw material we are getting is from villages and that too of animals who die of natural causes, not slaughtered ones,” he said, adding that supply has gone down from 10,000 hides per month to 500. “We have also reduced our employee strength from eight workers to just one now,” he said.
According to the Hide Merchants’ Association, around 40,000 people are directly engaged in this trade. Membership of the association has reduced by half in the last few years as many have turned their godowns into garment shops.
Big businesses benefit
According to the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters’ Association, UP’s meat industry employs nearly 2.5 million people. But there’s a stark difference between the formal market consisting mostly of wealthy exporters and the informal community of butchers, meat suppliers and those trading in animal byproducts. While the former own mechanised, well-equipped slaughterhouses that usually have the requisite permits, the informal market is dependent on government-run abattoirs, most of which have now been shut down for failing to comply with rules.
The crackdown has therefore skewed the market in favor of big companies, which have thus far been engaged in export of buffalo meat. “Big companies are making tidy profits as the cattle market has tanked due to no demand from butchers. On the other hand, shortage of meat in the market has caused its price to increase. So, the companies can buy animals at a low price and sell meat at a premium,” Dharmendra Malik, general secretary of the UP branch of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), told IndiaSpend.
To combat the meat shortage, the Kanpur DM arranged a meeting of meat-sellers and private companies operating from Unnao, a leather and chemicals hub 15 km from Kanpur. “We are granting no-objection certificates for meat shops to operate on the condition that they source meat from these companies,” Dr A.K. Singh, the veterinary officer at Kanpur Municipal Corporation, told IndiaSpend.
Similar arrangements have been made in other cities, including Bareilly, Moradabad, Aligarh and Muzaffarnagar. The price of buffalo meat has gone up from Rs 150 per kg before the clampdown to Rs 200 now.
Businesses are happy to tap the market not open to them earlier. “People are not very keen on the frozen meat we supply as they are used to getting raw and fresh meat from the city abattoirs. But that option is not available now. We are currently supplying 3-4 tonnes of buffalo meat per day to Kanpur and hope to scale it up to 30-35 tonnes,” Abhishek Arora, owner of AOV Exports Limited, told IndiaSpend.
Butchers, however, are unhappy at being compelled to buy from large companies. “Around a fourth of our earnings come from selling of waste material from slaughter. Entering into an agreement with the company means to let go of this profit. We would rather close down than hand over our business to the companies,” said Shahabuddin Qureshi, the general secretary of Qureshi Foundation, an association of butchers and meat-sellers in Lucknow.
A way forward?
Many said an ideal solution would be to set up an alternative slaughtering site away from habitation until the government abattoirs are modernised. “When an animal is slaughtered, around 20 people get work. There are the meat sellers, those who trade in animal skin, those selling bones and hooves, and then there are people who process the fat for sale to soap factories,” said Ahmad of Jamiat-ul-Quresh. “Now the meat sellers with licenced shops are the only ones able to do some business. All others have been rendered jobless.”
Meanwhile, illegal slaughter continues in Lucknow, clandestinely and at a smaller scale. “The animal waste which was earlier generated at one place and picked up by the municipal corporation, is now polluting densely populated areas without any proper disposal,” Qureshi asked. “What purpose has been solved with the closure of the government-run abattoirs?”
As workers struggle to reorganise their lives after the mass closure of slaughterhouses, the failure of past and present governments to organise a trade that employed hundreds of thousands is largely overlooked.
“The clampdown was much needed in view of the health and environment concerns associated with ill-equipped slaughterhouses,” said Kamna Pandey, former member of the Animal Welfare Board of India, based in Lucknow, “In fact, I don’t agree with the argument that the action needed to be in phases. But the government should have also been proactive in constructing modern slaughterhouses to avoid public loss.”
(Moudgil is a freelance consultant with India Water Portal, an online platform on water and sanitation.)
(Indiaspend.org is a data-driven, public-interest journalism non-profit/FactChecker.in is fact-checking initiative, scrutinising for veracity and context statements made by individuals and organisations in public life.)