Meat-sellers in Meerut fight for survival: ‘Is this the Achhe Din Modi promised?’
The narrow lane of Kotla Mohalla, a few metres away from Ghanta Ghar in the old quarters of Meerut, is unusually deserted.
In a corner, one cart, which sells haleem and biryani, has not seen many customers all day. “What do I do when there is no meat available in the market?” asks Mohammad Saleem, who runs the cart. He claims to have shifted to using soya instead of buffalo meat since the crackdown on ‘illegal’ meat shops and slaughterhouses began after the new government of the new Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath took charge of the state. “How am I going to feed my family?”
It should not be forgotten that action against "illegal slaughterhouses" was part of the BJP manifesto. It seems to have become the first priority of the state government.
Kotla houses the many small meat shops which sell buffalo meat and mutton catering to suit the needs of the locals in this predominantly Muslim neighbourhood. “Is this the ‘Achhe Din’ which the BJP promised?” Mohd Nayeem asks. “Do Muslims deserve this treatment that their livelihoods are being taken away?”
“The administration says we are slaughtering cows when we only deal in buffalo meat. We have a licence, but they are up for renewal, and they refuse to renew it,” Khalil Ahmad says, pointing to his shop, with its shutters down. A few other meat shop owners are smoking a hookah, in the street. “All of us have licences. But they are still not allowing us to function, neither giving us time to renew the licence,” Mohammad Shahid says.
Legal vs illegal
Local municipal corporation officials claim to have identified 184 ‘illegal’ shops in Meerut.
“These are the ones who either do not have their licences or their licences are up for renewal,” Kunwar Sen, a senior official of the corporation, tells Catch.
“We have sealed 60 shops and warned the rest to not open their shops till their papers are in order and their supplies are sourced legally,” another official says.
Most of these shops sell buffalo meat, while there are some which sell mutton and chicken. Very few deal in pork.
A new scarcity
This crackdown has resulted in a severe scarcity of meat in the city. Most shops have downed shutters fearing action, while others who are still open fear that they could become the next target of an overzealous administration.
“In 1962, Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister, said fish is ‘jal tarkari’ (a vegetable of the sea). We hope our business will not be affected,” Irfan Ahmad, who sells fish in Soti Ganj meat market says, hoping that at least those who are in the business of selling fish would not be affected.
“Chicken and mutton are still available at a few places. But we need buffalo meat too,” says Abid Ahmad, who runs a small eating joint, Roomali Corner.
Small meat traders are not the only targets of this crackdown. Even big state-of-the-art meat processing houses have been sealed in the city. Their owners claim that the action has been taken on flimsy grounds.
“They have sealed three meat processing plants, Al Kaif, Al Aqsa, and Al Yasir. They say we do not have maps approved from the development authority. In the case of Al Kaif, they said one CCTV camera was not working,” Deepak Kumar, one officials at the meat unit, says. “They could have done this before and served us notices so that if there were any issues we could have sorted them out.”
“It is just because the administration seems to be over-excited after the new government has taken over. The government has made it clear that it wants to shut down illegal slaughterhouses. We have no issues with that,” says Shahid Akhlaq, a former MP and former mayor, who is a big name in the meat export trade.
“The action by the officials affects not just those thousands of people who are working in these units, but also those who are involved in other allied activities, the tanneries, the chicken feed industry et al,” he says.
The All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association claims that country exports Rs 27,000 crore worth of meat, and a lion’s share of Rs 15,000 crore comes from UP. Of the 72 government-approved privately owned abattoirs across the country, 38 are in Uttar Pradesh.
What’s in a name?
Those working in the industry are also irked at the way the term ‘boochadkhana’, or slaughterhouse, is being used even for state-of-the-art units. “How is this a boochadkhana? It has modern equipment imported from Europe and employs several professionals from engineers to microbiologists to keep a check on the quality. Why can’t they just call it a food processing unit?” a quality control official at Al-Faheem exports asks. “This mentality needs to change.”
Former MP Yaqoob Qureshi, infamous for his announcement for an award for the head of the Danish cartoonist who drew Prophet Mohammad’s cartoon, owns the Al-Faheem plant.
Inside the plant, several men and women can be seen involved in the various phases of meat processing, properly dressed in aprons, gloves and masks. “The workforce consists of almost 20% women,” says Pradosh Kumar, an official at the plant.
Since the new government came in, the plant is working under its capacity of 1,000 buffaloes a day. “We only manage 200-300 these days because those who bring the livestock to us are afraid. Some of them have been targeted while transporting buffaloes to the plant,” Kumar says.
A case in point
Meanwhile, there is confusion about the legality and illegality of non-privately owned slaughterhouses. Meerut is a case in point.
The old slaughterhouse run by the municipal corporation in the heart of the city was naturally a bone of contention for a long time till it was shut down and razed to the ground by the previous Samajwadi Party government. It was shifted to a new locality away from the city on Hapur road.
But around the time of the last Kumbh, local meat traders say, Azam Khan, the then minister, had ordered that it be shut down, lest the affluents pollute the Ganga river. Since then, the city has been without a slaughterhouse.
The project report for a new one is pending with the municipal corporation on objections from the pollution control board. “In Delhi, when they shut the old slaughter house in Qasabpura, they moved it to Ghazipur. Why can’t they do it here? Is this not promoting illegal slaughter?” Shahzad Qureshi asks, explaining how even the SP government did not work for those involved in the trade. “It is not just the BJP. What did the SP do?” he asks.
“Meerut has no legal slaughterhouse,” Sen agrees. After the shutdown, local meat traders had entered into an agreement with Akhlaq, that they be allowed to carry out the slaughter at the Al-Saqib mechanised abattoir, which he owns. They were allowed to use it from 6 am to 9 am. But, that too, has stopped in the last one week.
Not just Meerut
The problem is not just with Meerut, says Yusuf Qureshi, an office bearer of the Jamiat ul Quresh, an association of Muslim meat traders. “There are around 2,100 slaughterhouses, big and small, all over the state. All are owned by municipal bodies. Now, strangely, all of them are being called illegal and have been shut down,” he says.
“Isn’t it the responsibility of the government and the local bodies to ensure that all their papers are in order?” he asks.
The previous government had mooted the idea of modernising slaughterhouses through the public private partnership model. “Only one such project has been completed in Bareilly so far. Even that is still not operational,” Yusuf Qureshi says.
The local exporters in Meerut have given a memorandum to the administration requesting that they not be targeted.
“If Muslims lose business in this manner, they will start living in fear. Is this the sabka saath sabka vikas the government promised?” the memorandum reads. However, according to AIMLEA, the buffalo export sector, including the by-products and the co-products “employs 25% backward caste Muslim men, another 25% from various other backward castes, and 50% women from the socially backward communities.”
To drive the point that it’s not just Muslims who are getting impacted, the association says a “vast majority of the buffalo farmers are non-Muslims.”
Meanwhile, after Siddharth Nath Singh, the state cabinet minister, said that over-excited officials should not target legal units, a delagation of the Jamiat ul Quraish met with him in Lucknow. They had sought time with the Chief Minister, who then appointed Singh to hear the grievances of the meat traders.
Yogi Adityanath, in a speech in Gorakhpur, had said that the government would not touch those abattoirs that are operating as per the provisions of the law and have valid licences.
“We met him and told him that the government should allow the use of old slaughterhouses till the new ones are built,” says Yusuf Qureshi. He says the delegation was told that the Chief Minister is particularly concerned about the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and says the action on slaughterhouses is related to that.
“But the minister has promised that the government will come up with an action plan,” Yusuf Qureshi says. “If they do not listen to us, we have no option but to get together and go on a countrywide strike,” he says. “And we will also move court,” he adds.