Yogi Adityanath’s Rush To Close ‘Illegal’ Slaughter-Houses May Do More Harm Than Good
Yogi Adityanath cannot go on this mindless closure binge without working out his plan B for how he is going to replace the incomes and jobs lost in the process.
Right now, the slaughter-house closures seem to have more downsides than upsides.
The Uttar Pradesh government’s efforts to close down “illegal” slaughter-houses appears ham-handed and counter-productive. The state’s energetic new Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, may be keen to show he is no slouch when it comes to implementing the BJP’s key manifesto promises, but he should hasten slowly if he is not to throw the baby out with what he thinks is pure and unadulterated bathwater.
The mere fact that something has been promised in a manifesto does not somehow sanctify its unthinking implementation, when there are both costs and benefits to almost any executive action. If the costs outweigh the benefits, and if the process of implementing an idea results in a larger damage to the social fabric, it is the idea that needs modification.
Let’s start with the assumption that the eagerness to shut down slaughter-houses is only about “illegal” ones. If this is the case, and there are so many of them, there must be a clearly-laid-out process for closing them down. Due process would involve giving them show causes, seeking explanations, and then evolving a route to rectification and legalising those that are willing to comply with the law after the payment of a penalty. You can’t rush to close establishments with deep supply chain linkages, incomes and jobs in the blink of an eye. In India, few businesses comply with all laws for the simple reason that we are an over-regulated country, and corruption ensures that illegalities are overlooked for a price paid as bribes. So illegalities do not exist only because some crooks have no respect for the law. They exist because we have a venal state. If the Yogi is keen to see the law being shown some respect again, his government must be the first one to demonstrate this respect by its behaviour.
The second problem involves both law and order and communal equations. You cannot ensure respect for the law and expect order in public places if you are going to damage the economic prospects of large sections of the citizenry. Not when you know that the slaughter-houses are disproportionately manned by sections of the minority community and the weaker sections. It was not for nothing that Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that elections may need majorities to win, but governments must work for all. There is no way Yogi Adityanath can ensure “sabka saath, sabka vikas” if his initial actions are going to alienate large sections of the minority community, even though they obviously did not vote for the BJP. Unemployment among youth is already a big problem, and actions that will further exacerbate this problem are hardly advisable.
The third issue relates to Hindu sensitivities involving cow slaughter. The state government needs to understand that Uttar Pradesh did not become a big exporter of buffalo meat by accident. If half of the country’s $4 billion in buffalo meat exports come from Uttar Pradesh, it is in part due to the ban on cow slaughter.
The cow has, since ancient times, been sacred for Hindus in part because it was an economic animal. But the ban on cow slaughter has made it less of an economic animal, for Indian cows are not that prodigious in milk production, and if their slaughter is banned, it means the birth-to-death economic value of the cow is falling.
Cows were sacred in India for four reasons: one was for their milk, which is consumed by humans; second, their dung was useful as fertiliser and cooking fuel; third, as draught animals, they were useful for tilling the land; and then, of course, cows could be cross-bred for producing more milch animals. Unstated, or course, is the disposal value of the carcass (Read this BusinessLine story here for insights).
But today buffaloes produce more and higher fat-content milk than cows; tractors have replaced draught animals on farms; and subsidised fertilisers have replaced dung as soil nutrients. Last, of course, buffalo meat, since it does not impact Hindu sentiments on cow slaughter, has become the preferred meat for those who want something other than mutton or chicken.
It is thus not surprising that cows are rapidly being replaced by buffaloes, especially in the cow-belt states. Says the Business Line article by Harish Damodaran: “While buffaloes constituted 34.6 per cent of the country's total bovine animal population (male plus female) as per the latest 2007 Livestock Census, the corresponding percentages were higher for Haryana (79.3), Punjab (74), Uttar Pradesh (55.8), Andhra Pradesh (54.2), Gujarat (52.4), Rajasthan (47.8) and Bihar (34.8). Most of these states are in the Vaishnav-Jain-Arya Samaj heartland, where the cow is specially revered. On the other hand, the buffalo shares were the lowest in Kerala (3.2), West Bengal (3.8) and the North-East states (4.6) that have no blanket laws prohibiting cow slaughter or sale of beef!”
Yogi Adityanath may find that the same cow-belt Hindus who voted for his party may be deserting cows in droves since they are of lesser economic value than buffaloes.
In this context, the ban on buffalo slaughter-houses may need to be rethought. While it may be too much to expect the Yogi to rethink the whole idea of ending the ban on cow slaughter, he cannot equally rush ahead with the idea of banning buffalo slaughter houses without causing serious economic damage, not to speak of worsening communal relationships, which too he has promised to improve.
The existing slaughter-house business has deep linkages with Uttar Pradesh farms and job-creating sectors like restaurants, transport, exports, leather goods and logistics. Uttar Pradesh, which is the cradle of modern Hindu civilisation which prospered in the fertile lands watered by the Ganga and the Yamuna, has to become India’s next growth tiger, and the way to achieving that is by promoting more productive farming and animal husbandry, apart from thousands of small agro-industries. Buffalo rearing and slaughter-houses, unfortunately, are a crucial element in that growth.
Yogi Adityanath cannot go on this mindless closure binge without working out his plan B for how he is going to replace the incomes and jobs lost in the process. Right now, the slaughter-house closures seem to have more downsides than upsides. If he really wants to reduce the buffalo rearing and meat business, it can only be done if he has a long-term substitute plan for creating alternative jobs and incomes for those currently dependent on buffaloes for a living.
Worse, since most vigilante groups can’t easily make out the difference between cow and buffalo meat, the Yogi is asking for trouble.
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