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'Gau rakshaks feel they have become emperors'

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf
March 29, 2017 21:19 IST
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'Gau rakshaks portray themselves to be bigger than the chief minister and Prime Minister Modi.'
'We have lost business of Rs 4,000 crore in UP alone since the BJP manifesto was released.'

IMAGE: A Muslim meat shop owner looks on outside his closed shop owing to the strike against the clampdown on slaughterhouses. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

The roadside eateries known for their kababs and biryani are nowhere in sight.

Ever since Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath ordered action against illegal slaughter houses, meat sellers have gone on an indefinite strike to protest this action.

On Tuesday, March 28, a ray of hope emerged when the meat sellers and traders held talks with UP Health Minister Siddharth Nath Singh, who promised them that licensed slaughter houses did not have anything to worry.

Fauzan Alavi, spokesperson for the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association, tells's Syed Firdaus Ashraf about the consequences of the UP government's actions against them.

On Tuesday, you had a meeting with Health Minister Siddharth Nath Singh? How did the meeting go?

We had a very positive meeting. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Siddharth Nath Singh are positive, stating only legal (slaughter houses) will function.

One thing the media needs to clarify is that there are 41 export oriented mechanised units. These units only export buffalo meat.

Now this entire crackdown that is happening in Gurgaon and across other places in the country is due to the failure of the municipal Act, which has been in place for years and years.

Under the Nagarpalika Act or Town Planning Act there is a compulsory provision to provide slaughter houses as per the population of the city and the size of the area.

On the books, they are.

For instance in Lucknow city, on paper there are three, four slaughter houses, but they are dysfunctional, they stink and nobody goes there.

The municipal slaughter house comes under the municipality of the city.

Why are these slaughter houses dysfunctional?

That's because of what happened these many years -- nobody bothered and therefore people started taking the system for granted.

I am from Lucknow, and ever since childhood I have seen the meat of goats and buffaloes being stamped blue by veterinary officers.

After that, this used to be distributed at different outlets. That was the supply chain, but in the last 20 years I have not seen anything like that.

So why is it that this system has been discontinued?

All kind of issues. People do not want to get into it.

People break rules and corruption takes place because municipal slaughter houses have to be checked by the chief medical officer, the veterinary doctor, municipal authorities to ensure cleaning and environment issues.

This is the time the government must streamline things and show the right way.
Across the world over, governments teach what is hygiene, what is the right practice and what is the wrong practice.
People are willing to learn.

Now if you go to Lucknow's slaughter house, you will see it is completely broken and nobody goes there.

I feel the government has made a great move, but to shut it down one fine morning is not correct.

The government should act like a big brother and teach them. Nobody wants to litter blood or throw animal skin in a civilised society.

Even if you start throwing vegetables on the main road, people will get upset.

Why didn't previous governments think about hygiene and cleanliness of the slaughter houses?

This is an answer that the government has to answer, which has led to this so-called illegal business.

It is very easy to break a law and get out of the system, but it is very difficult for anybody to keep getting into a system. It is a difficult job.

This is the time the government must streamline things and show the right way.

Most of the people (in the slaughterhouse business) you see are illiterate. They are not educated.

Across the world over, governments teach what is hygiene, what is the right practice and what is the wrong practice. People are willing to learn.

Do you feel there is a communication gap between the government and illegal slaughter houses?

Obviously, illegal slaughter houses are illegal because they are creating lot of dirt all over.

Now municipal slaughter houses where people are supposed to go are dysfunctional.

Now what happens is I am slaughtering in my backyard, my godown, my neighbourhood or slaughtering behind my shop.

Somebody from the government or some authority must tell them this is not right or else this problem will continue.

Now Gurgaon has started operations against this and also in Madhya Pradesh.

Suddenly everybody is waking up. What happened to the concept of a slaughter house in a town area which is in the municipality act?

This Act is in every state of the country, but nobody followed it. Nobody took cognisance.

But the solution is not to shut down everything and people going on strike.

The government has to give them an alternate like they did in Delhi.

In Delhi, people used to slaughter animals in their godowns and near shops. One fine day the government felt this is not going to work.

They opened a very modern slaughter house run by the East Delhi Municipality Corporation. It is managed by them.

For half a day, this slaughter house is allowed for export meat and half a day it is for local consumption.

There is a mandi to give your livestock. There is a doctor and a post-mortem is conducted.

You get receipts by paying a certain amount which is very nominal and then you can go on with your work.

There is an allegation that municipalities run by the BJP haven't renewed the licences of slaughter houses. How true is this allegation?

I would not agree. This is a collective failure of all the governments in the last 20 years.

So why are licences of these slaughter houses not renewed?

I guess the focus was not there. This issue was not highlighted.

Earlier, veterinary doctors used to check and give certificates.

Hygiene was maintained. Now all that is over and these issues are only on paper.

IMAGE: Meat vendors across UP have been on strike since March 27, causing immense losses not only for themselves but also eateries which serve meat delicacies. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

Why did meat export processes shut down completely?

There are two things to it.

Firstly, export meat units only export buffalo meat because farmers are not able to carry their livestock to the mandis or to slaughter houses.

The reason is that so many self-appointed gau rakshaks have come up.

They snatch the animals from farmers or extort money. So the farmers are scared.

Number of slaughter houses in Uttar Pradesh

Even buffaloes?

Yes, even buffaloes. They beat up farmers and at times, the police is also not helpful.

Now, what happens if you are on a fault-finding mission for everything, then it is very easy to point faults.

Ninety per cent of business in India will shut down if you try to follow 100 per cent rules and regulations.

There are also not too many literate people in the system -- like farmers or butchers.

It is about time the government takes some responsibility by saying it has been wrong for the last 20 years. We will rectify it. There has to be a concrete roadmap.

You cannot stop people from consuming chicken, goat or buffalo.

Is the problem created by the gau rakshaks that huge that people are not able to transport buffaloes to export units?

It was always a problem. The vigilantes in the NCR (National Capital Region), Meerut and other areas were quite aggressive.

Now they behave like they are kings.

Why are they stopping buffaloes? Gau rakshaks only target bulls and cows.

Gau rakshaks have taken custody of everything. They have become buffalo rakshaks also.

This is shocking.

You come and see the reality on the ground.

Don't the police stop these gau rakshaks? After all, you are transporting buffaloes.

No, they (the police) are not doing anything.

If frozen buffalo meat is going, then gau rakshaks stop the vehicle and say this is cow meat.

They set the vehicle on fire; if not, then they halt the vehicle for long and the buffalo meat starts rotting.

Crores of losses are incurred.

Have you faced personal losses?

We have faced a lot of problems, but so far we have been are able to manage.

We have documentation and veterinary reports, but for a farmer it is a huge loss because the gau rakshaks steal their buffaloes or let them loose on the roads.

It is very important that these gau rakshaks should be controlled.

Prime Minister Modi spoke against gau rakshaks last year...

He spoke and even Chief Minister Yogi said that, but unfortunately they have not been controlled.

Gau rakshaks feel they have become emperors now.

They portray themselves to be bigger than the chief minister and Prime Minister Modi.

What happens to the business of exporting buffalo meat?

Obviously, if there is no raw material coming, what are you going to export?

Right now, we are holding onto our staff because if we let them go, it is difficult to get them back.

On the books we have lost business of Rs 4,000 crore (Rs 40 billion) in UP alone as an industry since the BJP manifesto was released which stated they will shut down illegal and mechanised export slaughter houses.

Indian buffalo meat goes to 70 countries and foreign buyers were sceptical because they felt if they give us advance money we will not be able to deliver buffalo meat on time.

So they are not placing orders, and whatever orders were placed have been cancelled.

We are also not taking orders as we too are not sure whether we will be able to supply buffalo meat or not.

As an individual export house, we have a reputation to maintain.

So is this the end of the Pink Revolution?

The Pink Revolution is the backbone of the White Revolution in India.

The dairy business of India is number one in the world. So what happens to the farmer whose buffalo is not giving milk?

What will he do with that buffalo when he has no money to eat?

Basically, Indian buffalo meat is a byproduct of the dairy industry.

As much as the dairy industry grows, that much the meat industry will grow and subsequent the leather industry will benefit. This is the scientific way.

Will this lead to a disruption if slaughter houses shut down?

The first to be affected will be the dairy industry.

A farmer whose buffalo is not producing milk, what will he do with that buffalo? He has no money to eat.

Cow slaughter is allowed in Kerala, and Kerala has more cows than buffaloes because it makes business sense to keep cows rather than buffaloes.

If you see the last two livestock census conducted by the government you will find that the buffalo population has increased and the cow population has reduced.

It does not make economic sense to keep cows for a farmer.

The government wants to prioritise the milk and ghee business.

The government will do it, but there is enough dairy available in the country. We are dairy surplus and why? It is a cycle.

When a buffalo is uneconomical and stops giving milk to a farmer, he sells it to the meat industry which absorbs it.

The farmer in return gets a price for the buffalo. With that money, the farmer then buys another milk producing buffalo.

This is the scientific cycle.

Dairy-meat, Dairy-meat, Dairy-meat is a scientific cycle and that is how dairy increases.

In India, Uttar Pradesh is in the number one position for dairy and also meat production.

If meat production was affecting dairy, then dairy figures would be in minus, but it is not. So it is simple commonsense.

Can these illegal slaughterhouses get licences and become legal?

These are not illegal slaughterhouses, but government owned slaughterhouses. It is the responsibility of the local state government to maintain them.

Why is it then called illegal slaughterhouses?

The government is calling their own slaughterhouses illegal. Nobody is writing about that in the media.

They are not privately owned slaughter houses. Private owned slaughterhouses are those owned by export units and they have all the compliances.

Out of the 126 slaughterhouses, 41 are export units and the rest are the headache of the municipalities in every city of Uttar Pradesh.

That system has collapsed.

Which slaughterhouses have been sealed?

They have sealed shops, which were doing illegal slaughter of animals in small gullies. They were not following laws.

Out of the 41, they have shut down 10 export units for very flimsy reasons.

IMAGE: A cow walks past a closed slaughterhouse in Allahabad. Photograph: Jitendra Prakash/Reuters

What is the next step following the meeting with the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh?

The message was very positive, but things have to translate to the ground.

You have not meet Yogi Adityanath...

No. We have not been able to meet him, but we are trying to meet him.

How long will you strike?

We are not on strike. The local butchers are on strike.

As a private company, we can support them -- they can come inside our premises and slaughter animals, but then that decision has to be taken by the local administration of the city.

We have doctors, a laboratory, quality checkas, post-mortems, everything.

In Aligarh, they have started doing it from the district magistrate's office.

Till the time government slaughter houses are not repaired, we are ready to support as a private company the local supply.

We are ready to help them out as a goodwill gesture and not make money out of it.

Is this the end of the Pink Revolution?

If the Pink Revolution comes to a halt, then the White Revolution will collapse before that. They are interdependent.

56 per cent of the world's buffalo population is in India.

In dairy, the maximum you get buffalo milk. Paneer etc are made of buffalo milk.

So when you end the cycle, where will the farmer take his (old) buffalo?

You travel across the length and breadth of the country, you will never see a buffalo eating plastic or garbage, never.

A farmer is from every community and he is an Indian.

This is the best way to double the income of farmers because there is no guarantee of crops, but there is guarantee of the buffalo.

I met the Ethiopian prime minister a few months ago and he said that in their country livestock is given the same importance as petroleum.

For farmers, livestock is their ATM.

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf /