IT’S four days since the BJP government took over in Uttar Pradesh, and outside the cabin of Yogesh Sharma, the Veterinary Officer of the Agra Municipal Corporation (AMC), the queue has been growing. While 239 meat shops were registered with the AMC in 2016, this year, till March 10, only 177 had turned up to renew the licence. In the fortnight since, the number has risen to nearly 250, including for new licences.
Abdul Rehman, who has come from Basai to get a licence for his shop, claims he has been making the rounds of the AMC for five days. The 57-year-old has been selling chicken and fish outside the Basai police post for the last one decade, on the land of a man he calls “Panditji”. Rehman claims “Panditji” generally handles matters such as police for him, and alleges the AMC is taking bribes to clear applications.
“Kacchi dukaan ka licence milta nahin hai, Panditji hi hain jo police aur nagar nigam walon se nipat lete hain. Magar is baar unhone bhi haath khade kar diye (Licences are not given for kuchcha shops. It’s Panditji alone who can tackle police and Nagar Nigam guys. But this time even he gave up),” says Akram Hussain, who sells meat next to Rehman’s shop.
As Rehman is talking, Yogesh Sharma (40) arrives around 9.30 am and rushes inside his office. Om Prakash hands him the file with the almost 250 applications. Om Prakash retired as a clerk in October 2016 but continues to work at the AMC due to shortage of staff. Sharma tells him to keep these applications aside till March 25 — the “deadline”, he says, given to municipal corporations to finish raids on illegal meat shops.
Sharma’s plate is full. Apart from the licences and raids that now take up his day, he has to look after control and treatment of stray animals, ensure that government slaughterhouses maintain hygiene, and handle administrative works. Besides, Sharma, a surgeon, also performs operations on animals if owners approach him. Asked how many shops in Agra could be illegal, Sharma says, exasperated, “How can I say if there is any illegal meat shop? It’s just that they have not bothered to get their licences renewed.”
Around 10 am, there is a sudden buzz in the already chaotic office. Mayor Indra Vikram Singh has arrived, to check the premises of the Nagar Nigam for cleanliness. A nervous Sharma follows around the mayor, who returned to the BJP in December last year after a brief stint in the Samajwadi Party. Heading inside with his entourage of almost 50, Singh orders a peon to lock the main gates of the AMC so that no “latecomer” can get in. A peon whispers, smiling, “Ye bhi Yogi ban raha hai (He too thinks he is Yogi).”
As the mayor’s inspection continues, Sharma glances at his watch and asks Om Prakash to fetch his driver. He has to go to the government slaughterhouse in Kuberpur area for inspection. Driving there, he explains, “Almost 150 animals are cut in this abattoir every day, including buffaloes and goats. I am the chief while there are three more doctors appointed by the AMC to ensure that the animals are safe for consumption.”
Sharma is at the slaughterhouse till 12:30 pm, and while leaving, instructs the staff to be very careful about the rules. “Saheb, to kya humara kaam bhi band ho jayega (Sir, so will our work stop too)?” Shakeel, who has been working at the abattoir for eight years and is among the crowd gathered around Sharma, asks. Sharma tells him not to worry. “You think people will ever stop eating meat?” Around 12:45 pm, Sharma begins random checks of meat shops around the city. Again, at every shop, Sharma warns the staff of the consequences of selling meat without a licence. Mohad Wasim, who sells fish from an uncovered stall near Bhagwan Talkies in Bodla, is told this could all shut down.
Around 1.10 pm, City Magistrate Sandeep Kumar Gupta calls up Sharma and tells him to rush to Mantola. It is the most densely populated Muslim hamlet in Agra, and the site of more communal violence than any other part of the city. He would have to skip his lunch brought from home, Sharma sighs. But he remembers to call up home to ask his wife if their children, a son and a daughter, have reached home from school. Sharma, who hails from Etawah, has been posted in Agra for six years and has been a Veterinary Officer with the AMC for the last two.
The City Magistrate has already reached Mantola with a huge police force by the time Sharma arrives. Sharma, who leads the party, first goes to the shop of Mohammad Asad, who admits he doesn’t have a licence. Sharma asks officials to immediately seal his small shop, ignoring Asad’s pleas that his children would starve and that he would get a licence as soon as possible. Mohammad Wazir, who fishes out his licence, is instructed to keep his meat in a polythene bag and not in the open.
Haji Hassan tries to argue as Sharma says the furniture and other items in his shop would be seized as he didn’t have a licence and was selling “sick chicken”. “Aapne koi notice bhi nahin diya saheb, bas aa gaye dukaan hatane. Ye bhi koi baat hui? Iske pehle kahan the (We were not even given any notice. You just came to remove our shops! Where were you all before this)?” Hassan pleads, as the officials walk away. By 3.30 pm, the team has sealed 11 shops at Mantola.
Back in office at around 4 pm, Sharma goes through the files on his table. The queue at the office has thinned. Suddenly remembering something, Sharma calls Om Prakash and tells him to draft an advertisement for the next day’s papers, cautioning meat sellers to get licences. “We cannot go to each shop,” Sharma reasons. “We can’t even trace all as most people sell meat from small, makeshift structures. We are also short-staffed, with just eight labourers and three drivers managing entire Agra, which has thousands of strays.”
Noting that they need at least a staff of 40, he points to Om Prakash, who is working post-retirement, and to Om Prakash’s son Rajeev, here informally to help out his father. The licence fee isn’t much, Rs 300 annually to sell buffalo meat, and Rs 600 a year for chicken, fish and goat. It takes around five-seven days to get a licence, which is issued after officials have done physical verification. The reason many of them don’t get one, say the meat sellers, is the underlying cost: of bribes, and being at the whims of the AMC. Also, the licences don’t stop police, which regularly commands money to let them function. Munna, who has a chicken shop in Fuara, says the AMC itself never carries out inspections though it used to earlier, on almost daily basis.
Around 5 pm, Mohamad Haji Sirajuddien knocks on Sharma’s door. With a broad smile, Sharma welcomes Sirajjuddien, and introduces him as a Muslim man who has 12 healthy cows, all insured. The two have been friends since he treated one of Sirajjuddien’s cows, Sharma says. “Who says that Muslims just kill cows? They rear them too.”
His office hours have ended, Sharma says, looking at his watch, but he doesn’t get to leave till 7 pm these days. Sometimes, calls come even in the middle of the night. “It’s horrible is when seniors call at 1 or 2 am, for the body of an animal that has died on the road to be removed, or to rush over if an animal is being killed. I can say no, but only I know how to get the staff to work at odd hours. Their wages are so low, and this is long after their official hours. I sent an application for night duty staff, but it was rejected.”
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