The politics of pashu-dhan and pratibandh

Numbers don’t back claims of UP’s declining livestock wealth, crackdown on meat processing plants raises questions.

Written by Harish Damodaran | Published:March 24, 2017 1:22 am
Numbers of cattle have not changed significantly in Uttar Pradesh over the last 10 years. Archive

What exactly did the BJP’s 2017 UP election manifesto say on the closure of abattoirs and meat processing plants?

The party’s Lok Kalyan Sankalp Patra, as it is called, promised to shut down all illegal slaughterhouses and place curbs on all mechanical abattoirs in the state. On the first part, there is no confusion; all things illegal, by definition, have to be shut down.

The ambiguity lies in the part concerning mechanical — presumably legal — slaughterhouses. The Hindi word used in the manifesto is “pratibandh”, whose literal meaning is to ‘restrict’ or ‘ban’. Some are using a more liberal interpretation of the term: ‘regulate’. While there can be no plausible objection to the regulation of any industry, whether that is the stated intention here cannot be said for sure.

What is the current status of slaughterhouses in UP, specifically of those that are licensed and legal? There are a total of 75 abattoirs-cum-meat processing plants or standalone slaughterhouses in India approved by the Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) in the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Forty-one of these 75 are in UP — and all except one have permission to process and export buffalo meat. Besides the 41 integrated/standalone abattoirs, UP has 23 APEDA-approved plants engaged only in meat processing. The 23 include 3 in Meerut that were sealed by the district authorities on Wednesday — Al Yasir Exports, Al Kaif Industries and Al Aqsa Frozen Food Exports. They are all standalone meat processing plants. All three have an agreement with Al Saqib Exports Pvt Ltd, which is one of UP’s 41 APEDA-approved slaughterhouses. The slaughterhouse and the three meat processing units belong to the family of Haji Shahid Akhlaq, a former Mayor and former BSP Member of Parliament from Meerut.

What official reason has been given for sealing the three plants?

The “suspicion” regarding the source of meat apart, it has been stated that the construction plan of the units did not have the approval of the Meerut Development Authority. However, all three plants had been granted registration certificates as per detailed procedures laid down by APEDA. (http://bit.ly/2nfowjC) These require plant owners to furnish documents relating to the layout of the premises, no objection/clearance certificate from the state pollution control board, permission from the municipal/local body to run the unit for meat production/processing, and copies of HACCP(Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points)/quality safety system certificate, and testing report of water used in processing and effluent treatment from an accredited lab.

The APEDA registration is granted after a physical inspection of the plant by a committee, which also has representation from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), Export Inspection Council, Department of Animal Husbandry & Dairying, Ministry of Food Processing Industries, Veterinary Council of India and the Indian Veterinary Research Institute at Izzatnagar, Bareilly. The said plants would obviously not have received APEDA approval without these statutory requirements being adhered to.

Does the BJP poll manifesto offer any religious justification for closing down or imposing “pratibandh” on slaughterhouses?

No. The Sankalp Patra only makes a claim about UP’s livestock wealth (“pashu-dhan”) suffering depletion during the tenure of the previous governments, while linking this to illegal smuggling and slaughtering of animals. These include both cattle (cows, bulls, bullocks and their progeny) and buffaloes. While cattle slaughter in UP is illegal in any case, no such ban exists for buffaloes. How valid is the claim about declining livestock population and the threat to milk production owing to it?

Data from successive Livestock Censuses show a consistent increase in UP’s total buffalo population: from 189.96 lakh in 1997 to 229.14 lakh in 2003, 238.12 lakh in 2007 and 306.25 lakh in 2012. On the other hand, the state’s cattle numbers have fallen from 200.16 lakh in 1997 to 185.51 lakh in 2003, before rising to 188.83 lakh in 2007 and to 195.57 lakh in 2012. What is interesting, however, is a significant jump in the female cattle population from 94.74 lakh in 1997 to 98.53 lakh in 2003, 113.13 lakh in 2007 and 146.50 lakh in 2012. (See tables above)

Two conclusions follow. First, there’s little evidence of a reduction in UP’s “pashu-dhan” or livestock wealth. The state’s buffalo population has gone up, notwithstanding the so-called “pink revolution” in recent times. India’s buffalo meat exports soared from a mere Rs 1,380 crore in 2000-01 and Rs 5,481.43 crore in 2009-10, and to Rs 29,282.58 crore in 2014-15 before easing somewhat to Rs 26,681.55 crore last fiscal. At least half of these would have been accounted for by slaughterhouses and processing plants in UP.

Secondly, among both cattle and buffaloes, there is a particularly sharp increase in female animals. These, between the 1997 and 2012 Censuses, rose from 94.74 lakh to 146.50 lakh for cattle, and from 141.09 lakh to 257.11 lakh for buffaloes. This points to a clear farmer preference for females when it comes to bovines. The increased female bovine population also explains why UP’s milk production has not suffered despite the boom in buffalo meat exports. On the contrary, the state’s milk output has gone up from 14.65 million tonnes (mt) in 2001-02 to 20.20 mt in 2009-10 and 25.20 mt in 2014-15, according to the Union Agriculture Ministry.

How should the fact that despite booming meat exports, milk production has not been hit, understood? Farmers in UP, like their counterparts in other states, today rear cattle or buffaloes mainly for milk. With tractors and artificial insemination technology considerably reducing the utility of work bullocks and breed bulls, it makes little economic sense to maintain male animals. Within females, too, the preference is more towards buffaloes, which is evident in their far outnumbering cows. That, in turn, has to do with buffalo milk fetching a better price due to its higher fat content. Besides, the existence of a secondary market — in the form of slaughterhouses and meat processing plants — means farmers find it easier to dispose of unproductive and old buffaloes, as opposed to cattle.

Either way, it is the farmer, not the slaughterhouse owners or buffalo meat exporters, who should be held responsible for the perceived loss of “pashu-dhan” in UP. The closure of slaughterhouses can actually have the opposite effect: if farmers have no mechanism to replace old animals with new stock, they may not find livestock rearing and milk production viable in the first place.

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