Beef ban miffs Maharashtra traders

MUMBAI: Maharashtra's beef traders have decided to seeking legal assistance following the ban on the slaughter of bulls and bullocks.

Banning beef slaughter in Maharashtra may be the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Sena government’s way of appeasing right wing groups and of reaping electoral dividends, but the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill — granted the President’s assent on Tuesday — has virtually doomed over 10 lakh people connected with the trade.

The traders, who claim that the decision will affect almost 70 per cent of their business, say they will have to now seek legal recourse. They are also trying to garner political support from parties representing minorities and to “get on board those involved in trade of beef by-products like cosmetics, toothpaste, leather, etc.”

The BJP claims the ban decision is in keeping with the party’s ideology and also favourable for the state’s agrarian sector.

Mumbai Suburban Beef Traders’ Association president Mohammad Ali Qureshi said: “It will affect beef traders’ business as water buffalo meat accounts for just 25 per cent of our total sale. It will render many of us jobless while prices of other meat will go up and it will also affect rural economy. The farmers, already under debt, will have to maintain useless cattle on expensive fodder. The poor will not be able to afford high-priced mutton.”

He said: “An ailing bullock or ox sells for about Rs 10,000 to 14,000 and farmers, unable to afford upkeep of such cattle, often sell it to slaughterhouses.”

Until now, the Animal Husbandry Department in the state allowed calves, bullocks and buffaloes to be slaughtered. In Mumbai alone, there are about 900 licensed legal beef traders. The city consumes about 20,000 kilograms of beef every day.

At Deonar (the slaughter house in Mumbai), about 500 bullocks and ox and about 30 to 40 buffaloes are legally slaughtered every day. Pune is the next big market with about 14,000 kg consumed daily. There are about 500 licensed shops selling beef in Pimpri, Chinchwad, Sholapur, Malegaon, Kolhapur and Sangli.

Qureshi recalls that between 1975 and 1990, Gau Raksha Abhiyan and Jain community members would routinely come during lunch hours and hold anti-cattle slaughter placards at the gates of Deonar slaughter house.

“But they never turned violent. We have also faced attacks from the VHP and unauthorised raids by the transport authorities,” he said.

However, trouble started after the new BJP-Sena government came to power last year, with attacks increasing both in terms of magnitude and frequency.

Earlier, areas like Dhulia, Malegaon and Solapur bore the brunt of the attacks, but safer areas like Mumbai, Pune, Kolhapur, Nashik and Sangli being targeted have shocked the community.

On January 2 this year, over 100 meat traders were attacked in Paltan area of Sangli. It was then that the state’s traders came to Mumbai and decided to strike work.

On February 15, they decided to call off the strike after Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis assured them of a “safe working environment”.

Legal business

Qureshi said: “But nothing changed on the ground. They made legal trade and cow slaughter the issue when we were agitating against harassment not from government officials but from Right-wing associations. The licencees have a legal business. Yet, there are occasions when despite valid RTO documents for cattle transportation, valid certificates from veterinary doctors for the cattle and purchase receipts, activists accost and assault our traders besides seizing the animals.”

Refuting the traders’ claims, Gau Raksha Abhiyan president Milind Ekbote said that the ‘activists’ only stop those engaging in illegal cow slaughter business.

“We have caught several people while cows were being transported in their vehicles,” he said.

Slaughter ban evokes mixed reactions across state

The Maharashtra government’s success at securing the President’s assent to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (amendment) Bill that had been pending for 19 years, has evoked much debate across the state.

While the slaughter of cows has been banned in Maharashtra since 1976, the new bill, now to be implemented as an Act, completely bans the slaughter of cows, bulls, bullocks and calves.

The licensed meat traders can slaughter and trade only water buffalo meat, known commonly as carabeef meat. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad that has constantly demanded a blanket ban on cattle slaughter in India has hailed the decision.

“Our wait for 19 years has borne fruit and we are grateful to the Maharashtra government. Today, the people in the state can feel that this indeed is Shivaji’s land,” VHP’s central secretary Professor Venkatesh Abdeo said.

“The cow is not a mere religious symbol but it contributes to our lives in many ways. Besides the milk and milk products, cows, ox, bullocks, calf are all useful for farming. Cattle products, manure, cow dung act as much better manure than urea and chemicals. The VHP has carried out a research on cattle by products and secured international patents on the same. The medicines we make are useful for all religions, and the farmers too belong to all religions. Thus, the government’s decision is not just to benefit the Hindus,” Abdeo said.

He also said that the new, more stringent Act will help cut down the illegal beef trade industry in the state for “no one will dare to do so any more.”

While the BJP and CM Devendra Fadnavis have publicly thanked the President for helping the party “realise its dream of invoking a blanket ban on cow slaughter,” the government’s principal opposition in the state, the NCP, feels that the government has overlooked several factors.

“This decision goes against the farmers in Maharashtra. While cow slaughter was already banned in the state and we support that, this new amendment will prevent slaughtering of ox and bullocks including those that are ailing. A farmer who is already facing losses and mounting debt, will have to bear the additional burden of supporting such ailing cattle and spending at least Rs 5,000 each month on feeding and maintaining it,” NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said.

“The decision also puts a question mark on the livelihood of several people. These are the reasons why the Congress-NCP government was sitting on the bill for so many years,” he said.
However, the VHP has a ready solution for the beef traders in the state who are now staring at a loss of livelihood.

“They can join us and help produce medicines and other household products from milk and cattle by-products,” Abdeo said.