A little over two years ago, Kalim Qureshi used to procure 10 bovines on an average — a mix of buffaloes and male cattle — every Friday from the weekly animal market at Ghodegaon in Nevasa taluka of Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district. All these were for slaughter and supply of meat to shops in Aurangabad, about 60 km away.
In March 2015, the first blow to his business was delivered, in the form of the Maharashtra government’s comprehensive cattle slaughter ban covering not just cows, but even bulls, bullocks and male calves. It resulted in his purchases falling to 4-5 every week — all buffaloes whose slaughter and meat consumption was still allowed.
But for Qureshi, last week’s Union environment ministry notification banning sale and purchase of any bovine animal for slaughter in bazaars such as Ghodegaon, came as a lethal blow. “I am ruined. From where will I get my buffaloes from?” he asks. The ministry’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules does not technically ban slaughter. On paper, Qureshi can continue procuring buffaloes, so long as it is directly from farmers and not from markets. But this — going to the home of each individual farmer — is something that he sees as unviable: “How do I know which farmer from which village is planning to sell on a given Friday? The bazaar is the only place where I get to meet sellers who come on their own. If this avenue is closed, my business will also have to close.”
Farmers, incidentally, constitute only an estimated 30 per cent of sellers at Ghodegaon, Maharashtra’s biggest market for buffaloes that account for bulk of the 1,000-plus animals traded every week. “70 per cent of sellers are people like me, having direct village-level contact with farmers. We buy from them to sell here,” informs Raju Repale, a primary aggregator who brings 15-20 such animals every week.
The buyers, in turn, fall into two categories. The first lot — around 70 per cent — are farmers, who come to purchase young heifers, about-to-lactate or pregnant animals that are still in their productive age. The balance 30 per cent comprises small-time traders like Qureshi and commission agents for large slaughterhouses, who buy old, infirm and non-productive animals (buffaloes, in this case). The same pattern — of sellers being mostly primary aggregators and buyers largely farmers — repeats itself in Loni, a market in Ahmednagar’s Rahata taluka that witnesses weekly arrivals of 1,000-1,500 animals, 90 per cent of them cows. “We come mainly to buy here, because you have a wider variety of animals to choose from and also get a better bargain,” explains Madhavrao Soshe, a farmer from Gogalgaon village in the same taluka. But farmers, on the other hand, rarely come to sell.
“It makes no sense, when transporting the animal, along with loading and unloading, would cost me Rs 1,000. And, if I fail to sell, the whole trip gets wasted. We find it easier to deal with trader-aggregators, who will collect the animals from our farm and pay us on the spot,” adds Soshe. Subhash Mote, assistant secretary at the Loni cattle market concurs. “The aggregators transport a dozen or so animals in a single truck. The costs, therefore, get spread over many animals, which is not so with farmers who may transport only 1-2 cows,” he points out.
Most farmers The Indian Express spoke to in Ghodegaon and Loni weren’t fully aware about the environment ministry’s new rules, which seek to allow sale and purchase of only milch and agriculturally-useful animals in livestock markets. Cattle and buffaloes intended for slaughter can henceforth only be directly sourced from farmers. “It (the rules) makes no difference to us, so long as we are able to dispose of our bhakad (unproductive) animals. The money from these sales is what we reinvest in buying new productive cattle,” says Soshe. But the traders, including primary aggregators, are clear that the rules threaten the viability of their business.
“As it is, we are vulnerable to police harassment and attack by gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes), which will only go up with direct procurement. Suppose we buy from farmers, who will be responsible for the paperwork proving such transactions? In market purchases, there are at least bazaar pauti (receipt) and tax vouchers to help us claim our animals in courts. Here, the police will straightway stop our vehicles, seize the animals and slap cases of cattle smuggling against us,” fears Sadiq Qureshi, the western Maharashtra head of the All-India Jamiatul Quresh. His organisation represents the Qureshi community traditionally involved in the animal slaughter and meat trade.
While the difficulty in establishing a paper trail in respect of direct sourcing is worrying the wholesale trade, the concern of primary aggregators (who are mostly Hindu farmers) is quite the opposite. “I aggregate 20-30 animals every week from farmers. Will I now have to collect documents and declarations from every one of them (that the animals are not being sold for slaughter)? And who will bear the cost for all this paperwork?” quips Sandeep Jadhav, a 40-acre farmer and livestock trader from Walki, a village in Nagar taluka of Ahmednagar. Mote, too, is apprehensive that the new regulations — requiring sellers to furnish declarations and identity details of the owners and cattle, besides obtaining permission from “animal market committee” officials before every trade – will kill the trade. “Many of the buyers in our market are farmers from Gujarat supplying milk to the Amul unions. The sheer paperwork proposed under the new rules will discourage them from coming here,” he feels.