As Nitish Kumar swears in as chief minister of Bihar, this time with the BJP as his ally, beef traders in Bengal, who are dependent on Bihar for their cattle supply, fear that this may be the last nail in the coffin of their trade.
Cow vigilantism and crackdown in different BJP-ruled states, including Uttar Pradesh, have already hit the beef market in Bengal badly.
“This may be the last nail in the coffin of our trade. Bihar kept our dying trade alive till now. But with BJP coming to power in Bihar, we fear that the last supply line for cattle will be cut off,” said Muhammed Ali, president of Jamiat-Ul Quresh, Bengal chapter (national association of community of beef dealers) and the Calcutta Beef Dealers Association.
Bengal and Kerala are the only states where cow slaughter is allowed. “Now we are lucky to have seven to eight trucks of cattle (each with 16 to 17 cattle) coming from Bihar every day. Although they are smaller in size compared to other states (Haryana, Punjab and UP), we had no choice. Cattle from UP, the main market, stopped long back. It is nearly impossible for cattle trucks to pass through Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, where BJP is the ruling party. What will we do?” said Ali.
Traders now say they expect trouble from both police and vigilant groups during transportation. Cattle from Bihar come mostly to Ilambazar (Birbhum) and Pandua (Hooghly), which has largest cattle markets in Bengal.
Following the crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses in Uttar Pradesh, since the Yogi government took over, there has been a Rs 10 hike in price of beef, the traders said.
They expect this to go up once more if the supply line from Bihar is affected. The Tangra slaughterhouse, the largest in the state, in Kolkata where earlier 150 buffaloes were slaughtered every day, now only around 70 to 80 oxen and cows are slaughtered.
“Earlier 400 to 500 cattle used to come for slaughter every day. When BJP formed government at the Centre, problems began. After March, when BJP came to power in Uttar Pradesh, cattle supply to Bengal was hit badly. A small number of cattle was also being procured by traders from other states and brought through Bihar,” said Md Jehangir Qureshi, general secretary of Jamiat’s Bengal chapter.
Traders said a lot of people are associated with the beef industry — from transportation, slaughterhouses, labourers, to beef sellers. A huge workforce in the leather industry too is associated with the trade.