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Around 30,000-35,000 animals (buffaloes and bulls) are slaughtered in Maharashtra every day and on average each animal gives 150kg of meat. Photo: Reuters (Reuters)
Around 30,000-35,000 animals (buffaloes and bulls) are slaughtered in Maharashtra every day and on average each animal gives 150kg of meat. Photo: Reuters
(Reuters)

Maharashtra beef ban stokes debate

The 20-year-old bill that has become a law has social, religious and economic implications

Mumbai: Beef is now illegal in Maharashtra and anyone found with it (or selling it) could end up in jail for five years and be fined up to 10,000.

It will also be off menus, although it wasn’t immediately clear whether the possession and sale of imported beef would attract the same strictures.

On Monday, President Pranab Mukherjee signed off on the Maharashtra Anila Preservation (Amendment) Bill, 1995, that prohibits the slaughter of bulls and oxen and the possession and sale of beef. It does allow the slaughter of buffaloes (the law says water buffaloes, but these are the only kind found in India).

Maharashtra had already banned the slaughter of cows under the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act of 1976.

The 20-year-old bill that has become a law has social, religious and economic implications. It will affect the livelihood of those engaged in the beef industry and some claim it will saddle farmers with the well-being of animals that are no longer useful.

Maharashtra’s first Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena government, which ruled the state between 1995 and 1999, passed the law banning cow slaughter in the state in 1996. However, the President’s office sent back the bill raising some queries. In 1999 a Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government assumed office and stayed in power till October 2014. This government didn’t reply to queries raised by the President’s office.

After the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government assumed office, the Union home ministry asked the Maharashtra government whether it wanted to pursue the bill. The state government promptly replied saying that it did, and also responded to the queries raised by the President.

It helped that a BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government is in power in the centre.

Around 30,000-35,000 animals (buffaloes and bulls) are slaughtered in Maharashtra every day and on average each animal gives 150kg of meat. Around 1.5 million people are directly employed by the industry and are involved in transportation of animals, butchering them, processing meat and transporting beef to either domestic or international markets.

News portal Scroll.in reported that beef consumption in India is on the decline. According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), beef consumption in India declined from 1.7kg per annum in 2003 to 769g per annum in 2013.

But exports have zoomed.

Beef exports from India would reach 1.8 million tonnes at the end of 2013-14, Mint reported in January 2014. In the previous financial year, India’s beef exports in monetary terms were 17,500 crore, a 102% rise over three years.

In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi often accused the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of promoting a pink revolution in the country instead of protecting country’s pashudhan (animal wealth).

Arif Chowdhari, an office-bearer of All India Jamiatul Quresh, an organization of beef traders, said: “It is not only the beef industry which is going to be affected, but also pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry too; blood and fat from buffalos and bulls are used by them in various products."

It is a misconception that only Muslims benefit from this trade; Hindu Dalit castes such as Dhors and Matangs also depend on this trade, being involved in the leather industry, Chowdhari pointed out. “Once the Act gets notified, we are thinking about challenging it in the courts."

Others are opposing it, saying it could make life difficult for farmers.

Nawab Malik, chief spokesman of the NCP, said: “The ban to slaughter cows is in existence since 1970s; however, slaughtering of bulls, which are no longer useful for farm-related activities, was allowed, so the new bill is going to end up in putting unnecessary burden on farmers."

It takes 400 a day to maintain a cow (or bull), according to Chowdhari.

Another political rival of the BJP seemed to indicate that his objection was on nutritional lines.

“Beef, which costs nearly one-third of mutton or gosht, is the poor man’s source of protein. So in the name of cow protection, the government is robbing the common man of its intake of protein," said All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen legislator Imtiyaz Jaleel.

“The push given by this government to a 20-year-old bill clearly underlines the divisive agenda of this government. And it is a misconception that only Muslims eat beef. A lot of Hindu communities, especially scheduled caste communities, too, eat beef," he added

Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna, a farmers’ organization whose political front Swabhimani Paksha is part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), is also critical of the government’s move to impose a blanket ban on cow slaughter.

Party president and Lok Sabha member of Parliament Raju Shetti said: “Farmers never send the desi variety of bulls to the slaughterhouse even after they are no longer useful for farming activity as farmers are emotionally attached to them. However, male progenies of hybrid variety of cows such as Jersey cows are not useful for farming activities and they are sold by farmers to butchers. But this new law even bans that, so soon we are going to appeal to farmers that they should bring male progenies of hybrid cows to Mumbai and leave them outside ministerial bungalows on posh Malabar Hill and ask ministers to take care of them."

Defending the government’s decision, agriculture and animal husbandry minister Eknath Khadse said, “Banning cow slaughter is part of directive principles of our constitution, so we have acted to uphold values given to us by our constitution. And there is no ban on slaughtering of buffalos, so those who are talking about robbing jobs of millions or we are taking away source of protein of poor are trying to create a mountain out of a molehill."

People in the trade say buffalo meat accounts for one-fourth of the beef trade in Maharashtra.

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