The crackdown on illegal abattoirs was one of the first decisions taken by Yogi Adityanath soon after taking over as Chief Minister of the most populous and politically crucial state of the country following the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) resounding victory in the recently held assembly elections.
The UP is the country’s largest meat exporting state having a business of Rs 26,000 crore and providing directly or indirectly employment opportunities for more than 25 lakh people. Out of 72 government approved slaughterhouses in the country, 38 are in UP accounting more than half the share. However, most of these approved slaughterhouses only cater for export and the local needs are met only by the small illegal and individual slaughterhouses operating from pavements and congested residential areas and often in unsanitary conditions with no proper provision of disposing off or treatment of animal waste causing health and environment hazards.
The CM can’t be faulted for his action against illegal slaughter houses as the state government was well within its rights to take stern actions against them and it was also completely in line with the election manifesto of the BJP which had clearly stated that it would take “stern steps to close down all illegal slaughterhouses, besides banning mechanised slaughterhouses”, but it can certainly be questioned for putting forth wrong data to justify its agenda. The manifesto had falsely claimed that due to rampant bovine smuggling during the reign of past state governments there has not only been a fall in cattle counts but also in the milk production. The facts however, suggest otherwise. The UP livestock census has shown a consistent growth in buffalo population, from 229 lakhs in 2003 to 306 lakhs in 2012 also indicating a 6.5 percent increase in cow population from the previous census in 2007. Similarly the national dairy board’s figures for UP have also shown an increase in the production of milk from 24,863 tonnes in 2012 to 29,086 tonnes last year – a jump of 17 percent.
Notwithstanding the action of the Yogi government being both legally and politically ‘correct’ it raises many questions that need to be discussed dispassionately. Is the BJP deliberately treading on agenda that will alienate the Muslim minority who are believed to be largely involved in the meat industry and thus affected by this decision? If the crackdown is only against the illegal abattoirs, than why those having licenses are also being harassed? Has the government prepared any roadmap to rehabilitate lakhs of people whose livelihood was adversely hit by this action? Why the government before the drive against the illegal slaughter houses did not first ensure that its own slaughter houses were made fully functional? Had it not been more prudent on the part of the government to first give them an opportunity to renew their licenses which has not been done since 2014? Are environmental and health considerations, as stressed by the NGT order, the only considerations behind this drive or religio-cultural issues have anything to do with this move?
While the state Government has clarified that the drive is only against the illegal slaughterhouses the heat is being faced by legal abattoirs as well. In frantic searches even many legal units were also sealed on minor lapses such as non-functional CCTVs to a pending permission for groundwater use. The meat traders have also accused of injustices and harassment in the name of such drive both by the police and the so called vigilantes.
The drive against the illegal slaughter houses has also been shrouded in controversy amidst allegation of the fringe Hindutva groups taking law in their own hands. There are media reports from burning of meat shops to their forceful closure by the Hindu vigilantes in some parts of the state. At one place members of the Hindu Jagran Manch tried to enter the top meat exporting unit to conduct their own searches. The Bajrang Dal activists have reportedly raided a meat packaging unit on their own without informing the authorities and beat up a worker who was later discovered as a BJP member. The small meat shop owners fear the vigilantes more than the authorities who have become emboldened with BJP in power. Many of them have shut down their shops just to avoid unnecessary harassment as fear grips the entire community in the meat trade.
Perhaps no one is against the CM’s drive to check unauthorized and illegal abattoirs as he is simply discharging his constitutional duty to implement the orders issued by the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal which the previous SP government did not act upon as it could not muster required political courage for the same, but many certainly question the manner in which the whole drive is being hurriedly carried out. Those who were running illegal slaughter houses or meat shops without proper licenses should have been first given an opportunity to secure the legal permission after fulfilling all requirements. The government should have also made its own slaughter houses functional with soaring meat demand before the crackdown on illegal abattoirs. The government should have come out with a detailed road map for transforming existing unauthorized and illegal abattoirs to more compliant and regulated ones before the crackdown. All of them should have been insisted to follow the norms pertaining to pollution control, disposal of animal waste and health and hygiene.
Many have tried to project the crackdown as a Muslim issue to give it a communal colour to further vitiate the atmosphere in the state. It is true that the meat industry is a sector dominated by the Muslims but it also provides employment opportunities to a good number of low caste and backward class Hindus too and also a good source of the government revenue. The crackdown will backfire if an impression is created that the move is purely political and driven by culture, religion and faith. The involvement of Hindu vigilantes in raids and issuing warnings to those involved in the meat industry is bound to create such impression. The government should not forget that beside Muslims and Christians, beef is the dietary choice of a substantial section of Hindus as well.
Furthermore why actions should not be taken against the officials who have become hyper active this time for letting the illegal abattoirs to flourish in the state at the very first place? No illegal activities at such a large scale can be carried out by anyone without the patronage of the officials? The illegal small slaughter houses flourished in the state because the government owned slaughter houses were shut. The illegalities were committed by many units also because the whole procedure is very cumbersome as abattoirs have to comply as many as two dozen of regulations from treatment of animals to their transportation to veterinary certification and the treatment of wastes. As per existing law the local bodies are required to build, maintain and license the slaughter houses to meet the local requirement of meat. The government should come out with more pragmatic solutions than frantic and knee-jerk actions. The government cannot also ignore the interests of the farmers too as they are badly hit by the drive as they are not able to dispose of even unproductive cattle and buffaloes at the same time they cannot afford to feed them and are forced to leave them uncared.
The writer is Professor of Political Science at Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.