Economic Times: Prerana Katiyar: UP : Sunday, April 2, 2017.
HMA Agro Industries in Aligarh, one of the largest exporters of buffalo meat, figures on the list approved by the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Exports Development Authority (APEDA). Why then is it under a near complete lockout? After all, the crackdown by the new UP government — which is following up on an election promise — is meant to be on illegal abattoirs.
Prashant Sharma, chief general manager of the unit, points to the fear factor. “Farmers are scared not just of the police but also the rogue elements. None of them is willing to bring their animals here.” He narrates how a vehicle on its way to the plant carrying eight buffaloes was allegedly intercepted by a group of goons who set the live animals on fire. “We have all the NOCs (no-objection certificates) and are regularly audited by IITs.”
There are about 36 approvals that a slaughterhouse needs to be termed legal, including NOCs from the Pollution Control Board, APEDA, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), fire department, the police and the animal husbandry department.
HMA Agro supplies meat mainly to the Gulf nations. “The government authorities must come forward and facilitate ease of doing business,” says Sharma. The narrative hardly changes at Al Dua plant in Aligarh — another APEDA-approved unit — which is working at 10% capacity these days.
“We are short of meat supply,” says its HR head Mohammed Parvez Khan. “Our business was hit first by demonetisation and now by this ban,” says general manager Akhtar Hussain.
Sanjeev Raja, the newly elected BJP MLA from Aligarh, is in no mood to sympathise.
“Which professional and socalled legal abattoir buys animals directly from farmers? It is the middlemen who mostly steal milch animals and supply them to slaughterhouses. You must see how those animals are procured and transported, crammed up in small vehicles.
In my knowledge there is not even one legal abattoir in Aligarh but there is no unrest — it’s time these slaughterhouses were brought to order,” says Raja.
As per a query under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, there are eight legal abattoirs in Aligarh and at least 51 are illegal. RTI activist Sanjeev Chaudhary claims cattle smuggling is the biggest menace in western UP.
“Cattle theft and illegal slaughtering have become a flourishing business. One animal can fetch a handsome amount. More than the permitted number of animals was being slaughtered. All this has led to a growing milk crisis in the region.”
While You Were Sleeping
For the local farmers, though, there is little respite. “Almost everyone is acting like police. Lekin voh bhaise jayengi kahan jo doodh nahi deti hain (Where will the non-milch buffaloes go)?” asks farmer Illias of village Talasnagar in Aligarh. He is finding it difficult to maintain his four non-milch buffaloes. The upkeep and fodder of one buffalo cost Rs 250-300 per day.
Stories abound of how cows and buffaloes are stolen in the dead of night, from the field or farm, packed in small vehicles and at times killed even before they reach “legal slaughterhouses”. “I know four farmers whose buffaloes were stolen — each fetches Rs 25,000-50,000 at abattoirs,” says Fazal-ur-Rehman, a dairy farm owner.
Advocate and activist Sandeep Tahal has been campaigning against illegal slaughterhouses operating in Meerut, Aligarh, Ghaziabad and Hapur.
“The real issue is that even legal slaughterhouses are illegal: most of them get the animal killed by offering Rs 25 to Rs 50 to local butchers in one city to save costs and are exported out of a registered legal abattoir based in another city.”
Calling the government move too little, too late, he says the issue is more complex than what meet the eyes. “Today, slaughtering has changed. Now the animals are being cut at night to escape being caught, although the number of killings has come down,” adds Tahal.
In Agra, Nawab Bhai meat shop at Shaheed Nagar sports a deserted look. “Janwar bhi nahi mil rahe the; upar se nagar nigam ne sakhti kar dee hai (There was no availability of animal; moreover the municipality acted high-handedly, leading to the closure of the shop),” says owner Mohammed Rafiq.
It’s a similar story at the neighbouring shop run by Karim. “My licence was due for renewal. If we go to FSSAI, they send us to nagar nigam which then diverts us to the pollution control department — in the end we are told “Navratri tak ruk jao — maamla thoda thanda hone do (let Navratri be over — let the matter cool down)”. What hurts the most is that the authorities didn’t give us any time nor are they renewing our licence,” he says. There are no official figures but the ban has led to many job losses across the state. “On top of that, many of the abattoir owners have taken loans; the ban will make repayment difficult. We are likely to be penalised by importers.
This is a double whammy for an industry that was recovering from the effects of demonetisation,” says DB Sabharwal, secretary general, All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association.
Agra’s Samajwadi Party chief Raisuddin Qureshi says the real trouble is how Bajrang Dal leaders harass cattle traders and hamper their trade. Fatehabad-Agra BJP MLA Jitendra Verma dismisses the communal angle. “Voh (Muslims) mazhab ki baat karte hai aur BJP manavta ki (Muslims are talking about religious matters and the BJP of humanitarian issues).”
Ask him about the hyperactive buffalo police and he says: “If you have bought the animal from a mandi, you must possess a receipt. What is wrong if one is questioned about where the animal was procured from and where it is being taken? Similar protests were seen from certain pockets after demonetisation but the party has proved (after UP election results) that the righteous always win.”
One of the major contentions for cracking down on illegal abattoirs has been their polluting affect.
All legal ones must be equipped with an effluent treatment plant to treat liquid waste, a bio-digester to treat gas and a rendering plant to make solid-waste non-polluting. “Even the legal abattoirs and the ones owned by nagar nigam do not use them. The waste, including flesh, goes into the Aligarh drain that has become highly polluted. One must ask these big and legal traders why American or European nations don’t import Indian meat? That’s because they do not follow standards of safety and hygiene. Indian meat is acceptable only in Muslim dominated Gulf nations and China,” adds Tahal.
Some feel that just like demonetisation, some time should have been provided for the common man to adjust to the big change. “Lakhs of workers have been left unemployed. For many, even two square meals are not available,” says Lucknow-based Sunni cleric Firangi Mahali. Not all hope is lost, though.
“After the delegation of meat traders met the chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, on Thursday, we are hopeful that the business will restart and a permanent policy will be in place to close down illegal abattoirs in a phased and planned manner.”
Mahali adds that apart from shutting down private illegal abattoirs, the dispensation must simultaneously modernise government ones so that they do not lead to pollution, and meat processing happens in a hygienic environment. “But this will take at least a year if the work starts immediately. Hence the government must let the existing ones operate and give them a year’s time to modernise.”
The BJP is in no mood to show any respite. “Relaxation for illegal work may have been possible during the SP/BSP regime but not under the BJP government. No leeway can be given for any illegal work,” UP Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya told ET Magazine.
Enter the Zohrabad part of Aligarh and preparations are underway for the nikkah of grocer Ashraf ’s sister. From the shamiana to the chefs, everything has been arranged — except for meat, which the host has been forced to push out of the menu. In its place: poori-sabzi, says Ashraf. “For the first time in the history of our family, we are not able to serve meat at a wedding feast,” he laments.