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UP meat-sellers on strike: A crisis is unfolding and Yogi Adityanath must get his act together soon

There is widespread resentment on the Uttar Pradesh government’s crackdown on illegal abattoirs. Even the registered ones (about 41 of them) are feeling the heat because of supply shortage and fear of action by government agencies. Hence, it isn’t difficult to understand why meat sellers in Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s largest meat-producing states, decided to go on an indefinite strike from today (Monday). They are worried about a sudden stop in their income and their uncertain future. Even the chicken, fish sellers have joined the strike.

To be sure, Yogi Adityanath’s slaughter house ban may also have certain good intentions—curbing theft of live stocks and checking illegal butcher shops—but, there is a problem in the way the decision is being implemented that will have consequences on the economic and social levels in the state.

A sudden crackdown, without assessing the impact or offering a road map to the affected, was sure to hit jobs and livelihood of a large section of people not just in the meat industry but in several other related segments. The ramifications include the costs incurred by farmer who supplies unproductive cattle, the leather industry (tanneries, leather goods manufacturing), food products industry, small exporters and more importantly the hotel industry. “Various agencies are visiting even the legal slaughter houses and asking details, which in turn create panic. Even the legal slaughter houses are now operating in fraction of their capacity,” told DB Sabharwal, secretary of All India Meat & Livestock Exporters’ Association, to Firstpost.

What is missing is a clear guidance from the new chief minister on what will happen to thousands of people who so far depended on this industry for their livelihood. Besides the 41 registered slaughter houses, there are several small butcher shops operating in the state. They are illegal, but the fact is that this informal industry constituted an important segment of the economy. Will the government offer an alternative to them?

The Yogi government will have to confront the problem of sudden spike in unemployment sooner than later. Not just meat traders—in other segments too. For sure, it is imprudent to tag everything Yogi Adityanath does to his religious/ideological ideas, but they should be scrutinised as administrative actions from the chief minister’s office, which is accountable and answerable to all sections in the state.

As the CM of UP, Adityanath will have to also tackle the economic consequences of his actions, not just social/religious resentments. As pointed out in a recent piece (read here), meat industry plays a significant role in Uttar Pradesh’s economy. An Icra report says the state accounts for the highest share of buffalo population at 28 percent and houses 60 percent of slaughter houses and meat processing units in the entire country.

The decision also will have revenue implications on the state’s exchequer. Total buffalo meat production, including the output in meat processing plants, in the year 2014-15 stood at 7,515 lakh kilograms, while that of goat meat stood at 1,771 lakh kilogram, sheep meat at 231 lakh kilogram while pig meat production was recorded at 1,410 lakh kilogram. On an average, Uttar Pradesh’s slaughter houses produce 137 kilograms of buffalo meat per day. The thriving industry employs thousands of workers and indirect employment to many others. The estimated loss to the state exchequer on account of the slaughter ban is about Rs 11,350 crore (2015-16) in terms of revenue from exports.

“In 2015-16, Uttar Pradesh exported 5,65,958 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,” the Icra report said.

According to an India Today report (read here), that quotes All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association, the accumulated losses in the last two months, since the BJP manifesto promised closure of illegal slaughterhouses, runs into Rs 4,000 crore. This means, many families have already started feeling the heat of an abrupt stop to their income. Another side of this problem will arise in the form of a spike in the inflation of meat products. Prices are bound to shoot up when supply takes a hit.

Lastly, with the government closing down slaughter houses, the question that arises is what will the poor farmer do with cattle unfit for work. Closure of slaughter houses will lead to increase in population of unproductive animals. Maintaining dry animal at costs about Rs 60-80 per day will be a burden for small farmers who do not have the means required to maintain this stock.

Yogi Adityanath’s government should have thought various consequences of the slaughter ban before implementing the decision. Offering a road map and a deadline for illegal slaughter houses to be shut down in a phased manner and factoring in the income and employment loss and, finally, giving an option to those abattoirs which meet the norms to get the registration, would have helped to avoid the current mess.

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