The Bharatiya Janata Party, in their Uttar Pradesh election manifesto, promised to close down all “illegal” abattoirs in the state if it comes to power. BJP national president Amit Shah, however, went on to state that all slaughterhouses will be closed down on March 12, a day after counting of votes. His remarks came just before the first phase of the Assembly elections in February. It has been 216 hours since the results came in, 48 hours since the BJP chose Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister, and 24 hours since his swearing-in.
In a press briefing on Sunday, when reminded about Shah’s promise, BJP minister Shrikant Sharma told reporters that a decision on the issue will be taken when the state Cabinet meets. Adityanath asked his ministers to resist from making comments that would hurt anyone’s sentiments, Sharma added. In the event of a ban on slaughterhouses in the state, its impact on the economy and the loss of jobs will be significant.
Data from Uttar Pradesh’s Animal Husbandry department show the state produced 7,515.14 lakh kg of buffalo meat, 1171.65 lakh kg of goat meat, 230.99 lakh kg of sheep meat, and 1410.32 lakh kg of pig meat in 2014-15. The above figures also include those from meat processing plants in the state.
There are 72 government approved abattoirs-cum-meat processing plants/standalone abattoirs in India at present; 38 of them in Uttar Pradesh alone. In 2011, when the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) released its list of government approved slaughterhouses, there were only 30 across the country, but over half of them were based in Uttar Pradesh. In its 2014 notification, the APEDA approved list increased to 53 abattoirs in the country. The following year 11 more were added to the list, taking it to 62 overall. At present, out of the 38 slaughterhouses — 7 in Aligarh, 5 in Ghaziabad — 37 produce and export buffalo meat.
In 2016, India exported 13,14,158.05 metric tonnes of buffalo meat worth Rs 26,681.56 crores to the world. The major destinations for its exports are Muslim-majority countries such as Malaysia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. In Uttar Pradesh, the law permits slaughter of buffaloes/bulls that are over the age of 15 and unfit for breeding. There are reports suggesting that the BJP government in the state is likely to promulgate an ordinance banning slaughterhouses. It is, however, unclear whether the government will be targeting only those in the buffalo meat business or even the others involved in the trade of other meat products. Since 2014, when the BJP rode to power on the Modi wave, revenues from exports have considerably declined, as the graph below suggests.
In the eventuality of the BJP coming good on their poll promise in UP, the decision will wipe away the crores of investment that went into setting up the abattoirs and put the future of thousands employed in the industry at risk. The owner of a slaughterhouse in UP, speaking to the indianexpress.com on condition of anonymity, said: “They (BJP) said they want to stop slaughterhouses but which ones is still not clear. Old government slaughterhouses have already been ordered to shut down about three years back, but some are still working. I can’t comment more on the issue.” Efforts to reach out to the All India Meat Exporters Association have also hit a wall.
In its 2014 report, the Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries department stated that Uttar Pradesh (19.1 per cent) is the largest producer of meat in the country, followed by Andhra Pradesh (15.2 per cent) and West Bengal (10.9 per cent). From 2008 till 2013, the report notes, UP has consistently remained at the top spot in terms of meat production in the five years. The 18th livestock census undertaken in 2007, shows that UP has the highest number of bovine population than any other state. The 19th livestock census in 2012 also reaffirms this view. Its numbers have gone up significantly in the state from 2,38,12,000 to 3,06,25,000, an increase of 29 per cent. In Andhra Pradesh, the population percentage fell by 20 per cent from 1,32,71,000 to 1,06,22,000.
The ban could lead to a deficit of at least Rs 11,350 crore (2015-16) in terms of revenue from exports. In 2015-16, Uttar Pradesh exported 5,65,958.20 metric tonnes of buffalo meat. There is no other state in the country with the resources or the bovine numbers that could even come close to filling this huge hole.