The menace of stray cattle which has forced Uttar Pradesh’s angry farmers to lock them up in public premises like schools is the consequence of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) politics of hatred and intolerance which is based on an ideology that is in conflict with people’s lives.
The buffalo and the cattle meat (in states like Kerala, Karnataka and West Bengal where it is permitted) industry is an adjunct of the country’s milk economy. Dairying cannot be a profitable vocation if unproductive cows, bulls and buffaloes are not culled. Left to die a natural death, they will make demands on feed and fodder at the expense of milk-giving animals and the well-being of farmers.
The difficulty in disposing of cattle (cows and bulls) for religious reasons has resulted in their population steadily decreasing. From 204.5 million in 1992, their number across India fell seven percent to 190.9 million in 2012. In contrast, the population of buffaloes increased by 29 percent from 84.2 million to 108.7 million during the same period.
In Uttar Pradesh, the buffalo population rose from 18.99 million in 1997 to 30.62 million in 2012 ─ a jump of 61 percent. Its cattle (cows, bulls and bullocks) population declined from 20 million in 1997 to 18.88 million in 2007 before inching up to 19.55 million in 2012. Of this, the share of female cattle was 75 percent.
Not only is there no restriction on the slaughter of buffaloes, their milk has more fat, which determines the price that farmers get. The farmers’ practice of selective culling of male cattle is evidenced by the rise in share of females in total cattle population from 50.3 percent in 1993 to 64.4 percent in 2012.
The skew is acute in the case of buffaloes. The share of females among them has risen from 79.4 percent to 85.2 percent during the same period. Without human intervention, the proportion of males and females would have been equal.
The Hindu and Muslim communities are entwined in the milk and meat economy. Muslim traders and butchers make unproductive cattle and buffaloes economic assets, valued for meat and leather. By disposing of old, infirm and unwanted animals for a price, dairy farmers can renew their stock. The ruling party’s promotion of cow vigilantism has disrupted this cycle.
During the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made references to the “pink revolution” and the role of the Congress-led Central government in promoting it (suggesting that it was another form of minority appeasement). Buffalo meat exports have risen from 4.9 lakh tonnes worth $1.16 billion in 2009-10 to 1.35 million tonnes valued at $4.03 billion in 2017-18. The main export destinations are Vietnam (for re-export to China), Malaysia, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Since the slaughter of cattle is not allowed in Uttar Pradesh, its abattoirs only process buffaloes. Cattle are aggregated and mainly smuggled to Bangladesh. But that avenue has almost been closed.
In December 2014, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh asked the Border Security Force (BSF) personnel to stop the smuggling of cows to Bangladesh. In April 2015, addressing BSF jawans at the border, Singh relished the rise in price of beef by “30 percent” in Bangladesh, owing to the choke on cattle smuggling. He urged the jawans to further constrict supplies so that the price rose by “70-80 percent” and Bangladeshis gave up eating beef.
On account of the demand for cattle, BSP posts were said to be lucrative. Fauzan Alavi, a director of Allansons, India’s largest buffalo-meat exporter, believes this is no longer the case. Cattle smuggling to Bangladesh had virtually stopped, he says, because of the BJP government’s zeal in monitoring it. This is the reason, according to him, for the rise in the population of stray cattle in Uttar Pradesh.
The buffalo meat industry in Uttar Pradesh was also disrupted briefly after Yogi Adityanath took over as chief minister. Within days of assuming office, he ordered the closure of slaughterhouses that did not comply with laws pertaining to sanitation and animal welfare.
Each of Uttar Pradesh’s 75 districts has a slaughterhouse and they are all established by the government. So, the chief minister was punishing the meat-eating and trading segment for an act of the previous government. The abattoirs exporting buffalo meat meet sanitation and safety standards. They are monitored by the importers. But even these units were targeted and the supply of buffaloes to them was affected by the high-handedness of Hindutva vigilantes.
Uttar Pradesh’s municipal slaughterhouses are closed, but illegal slaughter of buffaloes has returned, sources say.
Another blow to the cattle and buffalo trade was delivered by the rules for trading in animal markets that were notified in May 2017. The new norms expanded the definition of cattle to include buffaloes, and could not be slaughtered if traded in the animal markets. Extensive documentation was imposed to ensure this.
A person selling cattle was required to furnish the name, address and photo ID of the owner, and details of the animals to an official committee. The seller had to provide proof of identity and the revenue document proving he was an agriculturist. Both buyer and seller had to undertake that the animals were not for slaughter. Five copies of the proof of sale have to be furnished to various authorities. They and the seller had to keep the documents for six months.
Following opposition from Kerala, Karnataka and states in the North East, the notification was withdrawn. But cow vigilantes were emboldened. In connivance with the police, they harassed cattle and buffalo traders. This has disrupted the cattle trade and boosted the stray animal population.
Farmers, who are reeling under low prices for their produce, have had to fence their fields at considerable expense. They have to maintain vigil at night to protect crops from stray cattle.
“It is a very serious issue,” says Surendra Bahadur Singh, who oversees milk procurement in Kanpur for Banas Dairy. The Gujarat-based dairy buys about 4.5 litres of milk daily from about 1,75,000 farmers in 12 districts of Uttar Pradesh.
Stray cattle are a serious menace in Bundelkhand districts like Jhansi, he says, perhaps because of the failure of monsoon last year and the inability of farmers to feed the cattle.
Uttar Pradesh’s economy is dependent on animals. According to a study by Smriti Verma, Ashok Gulati and Siraj Hussain of ICRIER, a research organisation, milk production contributed the most (28.9 percent) to the state's economic growth in 2013-14 followed by meat (5.6 percent).
The BJP’s politics of polarising communities and economically crippling those engaged in the meat trade will have economy-wide ripples. Earlier, the state’s Hindi chauvinism had deprived its youth of the benefits of the IT revolution. Uttar Pradesh doesn’t seem to know what’s good for it.
(The author is senior consultant to ICRIER and blogs on www.smartindianagriculture.com. He tweets @smartindianagri)
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Updated Date: Jan 12, 2019 10:15 AM