Confusion, Corruption & Extortion: Unintended Consequences Of Illegal Slaughterhouse Ban In UP
Confusion, corruption and extortion abound in UP in the wake of the state government’s order to shut illegal abbatoirs
Illegality thrives in Uttar Pradesh’s drive against illegal slaughter of buffaloes and goats. The action initiated after Yogi Adityanath took over as Chief Minister on 19 March itself lacks due process. Some police officials and vigilantes owing allegiance to muscular Hindutva outfits like the Bajrang Dal are beating up buffalo suppliers and extorting money with little fear of being punished.
By its inaction, the UP administration is doing unconstitutional things legally, like depriving citizens of livelihood, and their choice of food, as the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court observed about the Lakhimpur Kheri municipal corporation which was prevaricating on a goat meat seller’s license renewal application.
There was a torrent of complaints from buffalo suppliers to Frigerio Conserva Allana Private Limited, when this correspondent met them on 15 April. The Aligarh-based company is engaged in slaughter and processing of buffalo meat for export. It belongs to Allanasons, a Mumbai-based trader and exporter of coffee, spices, vegetables, fruit juices and soybean oil, which began operations in 1865. It got into buffalo meat exports in 1969. Last year the group exported 4.5 lakh tonnes, says Ayaz Siddiqui, general manager (operations) at the Aligarh plant. That is a little more than a third of India’s 2015-16 buffalo meat exports of 1.3 million tonnes.
Gola Qureshi, a buffalo supplier from Bareilly, said he was parted with Rs 1,000 on the day this correspondent met him by police at Raya railway crossing near Mathura, while transporting animals from Laxminagar penth (weekly market), despite showing them the bill of purchase. The police were aided by four or five vigilantes on bikes, he said. If he did not pay up, the police threatened to take away his animals, 16 of them, worth about Rs 4 lakh to village folk.
Recovering them would have been very difficult.
Naushad said he was intercepted by the police at the beginning of April while ferrying 10 buffaloes from Ganganpur mandi on Agra Road. He offered Rs 200 but the police directed him to the police station. Fearing he would be beaten up, he fled. The driver of the vehicle made a deal for Rs 4,300. This happened in the jurisdiction of Pilua police station.
Abdul Qayyum of Mawan village in Mathura district said he paid Rs 50,000 to Bajrang Dal activists and the police at Raya railway crossing on 27 March. The maal was released, he said, but the truck is still seized. Qayyum said he called up Pooran Prakash, the BJP MLA of Baldev assembly constituency, who was willing to plead his case but the station house officer (SHO) of the police station refused to take the call. When Qayyum showed the SHO the permit from Frigerio Conserva, he was told to “keep it in his pocket”.
Four of seven export-oriented abattoirs in Aligarh were closed when this correspondent visited (District officials said 11 have been closed). Siddiqui says some of them closed down voluntarily to meet inadequacies in compliances, rather than risk being sealed by officials motivated by ideology or to establish their loyalty to the new administration.
Export units are approved by Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), the food products export promotion agency, and Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the foods safety and standards authority. They are also inspected by teams sent by importers. The Frigerio plant was neat, clean and disinfected. The only suggestion of its activity was smell emanating from its rendering plant where animal waste is treated with heated steam.
Slaughterhouses have to meet 17 compliances pertaining to animal welfare, safety of meat during processing, transportation and retailing, pollution control, waste disposal and so on. What constitutes illegality is not clear, says D B Sabharwall, secretary-general of the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association. Siddiqui says that an acquaintance at a plant in Saharanpur told him officials closed it because one of the CCTVs was not working. Another acquaintance at a plant in Meerut told him it was sealed because a part of the factory building did not have approvals. Earlier, deficiencies were pointed out and time was given to rectify them. Sealing of a plant was seldom done, Sabharwall says.
Buffalo meat sellers have also closed down their shops voluntarily to avoid getting into trouble with the law. Mohammed Rashid was installing aluminium windows at his hole-in-the-wall at Aligarh’s Turkman Gate neighbourhood.
The municipal corporation’s checklist for license renewal included the following:
(a) whether the retail outfit is owned or rented out
(b) whether the flooring is pucca or not
(c) whether the walls are painted
(d) distance from school or mandir
(e) whether there is a drain in front of the shop
(f) where there is a tap with running water
(g) whether there is a glass enclosure or chic (mat of reeds) covering so carcasses are not exposed.
According to Tariq Anwar, president of the butchers’ association, Aligarh has 351 buffalo meat shops of which 233 had licenses last year. S B Singh, additional district magistrate (city) says there were 136 licensed buffalo meat retailers.
“There is no shortage of flesh in the city as there are alternate arrangements,” Singh says quaintly. To ease people’s hardship, the district administration has directed exporters like Frigerio to divert a part of their production to the local market. Of UP’s 75 districts, only Aligarh has taken this step, says Fauzan Alavi, director of Allanasons.
Aligarh’s only municipal slaughterhouse has been closed since January 2014 as it did not meet pollution control norms. Blood used to be drained into a nala; the offal was treated at a private rendering plant. It was an apology of a slaughterhouse like the rest in the country. The Aligarh administration is now acting with urgency. The effluent treatment plant will be operational in less than two months, says Singh.
The slaughterhouse used to charge Rs 25 per animal. When it was shut, butchers shifted their activity to their homes and shops. This correspondent found offal dumped near the slaughterhouse stinking very badly despite little or no butchering happening for about two weeks. Despite the common perception, no butcher would like to slaughter buffaloes in his house, says Anwar because cleaning up is quite a job in itself. Dumping the offal at a waste site also costs more than what the municipal slaughterhouse used to charge.
Chief Minister Adityanath told representatives of the buffalo and goat meat industries that he is only against illegal slaughter and wants the relevant laws to be observed. But the Muslim community feels it is being targeted as UP’s halwais, dhabas and restaurants have been spared. They do not fare much better than the meat businesses in complying with standards of hygiene and food safety.
Ramzan, Islam’s holy month of fasting, will commence from 27 May. If inexpensive buffalo meat is not available, trouble might be stirred in the Muslim and Hindu communities, says Alavi.
Why cannot buffalo meat exporters set up hygienic abattoirs for the domestic market? Sirajuddin Qureshi, president of the All India Jamiat-ul Quresh (the association of Qureshis, the Muslim sect traditionally engaged in the meat business) has had an unhappy experience with Chennai Corporation. He was invited to set up a slaughterhouse at Perambur in 2008. He built one in 2009, investing Rs 50 crore but local politicians have not allowed it to operate. In March, the Supreme Court ruled in his favour on a contempt petition.
In Delhi, Allanasons is operating the Ghazipur mechanised slaughterhouse after the one at Idgah Road in the heart of the city was ordered shut by courts. But one is not enough to meet the requirements of the city. Sellers who are located far away will not find it economical to use it either. Allanasons also started a fledgeling domestic business supplying buffalo meat to institutions: embassies, hotels and flight kitchens.
But when Mohammed Ikhlaq was lynched by a mob in Dadri in Western UP in September 2015 for allegedly consuming cow meat—his family said it was mutton—Allanasons shut the business which employed about 100 persons. It did not want to risk the lives of its employees or damage to its reputation, from a similar event.
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