The issue around the Uttar Pradesh government's crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses gained further steam on Monday with thousands of meat sellers going on strike for an indefinite period.
The strike, which started on Monday, has brought the over Rs 15,000-crore industry that employs 25 lakh people in the state, to a grinding halt. The issue also came up for discussion in Parliament on Tuesday, with the central government claiming that only illegal slaughterhouses were closed.
Meat sellers in the state, however, allege that police were raiding shops and forcing the closure of their establishments despite having valid licences. They said the ban on slaughterhouses has caused a shortage in meat supply across the state, as thousands of meat sellers have been forced to down shutters for an indefinite period of time, as uncertainty over the state government's policy continues.
Meanwhile, with contrasting arguments emerging, there is no making of the rights and wrongs in the issue. The issue has the right to livelihood of lakhs of people and their dependents on one hand, and the law of the land and crucial environmental checks on the other.
Considering only illegal slaughterhouses are the ones targeted, or so the government claims, here's a breakdown on the legal aspects of the issue to help define what exactly is a "legal slaughterhouse".
Legal meat, illegal meat
Cow slaughter is illegal in Uttar Pradesh, as is in most parts of India. However, the slaughtering of buffaloes, water buffaloes and other cattle is not banned. The protection of cows and calves is also one of the directive principles of state policy contained in Article 48 of the Constitution. However, a blanket ban remains very much a state subject. Various states have chosen to outlaw cow slaughter, as per local customs and culinary preferences, but in Uttar Pradesh, buffalo meat is legal as of now.
An issue more about environment than religious sentiments?
It is important to point out at the onset that the issue of slaughterhouses, in practical terms, is mostly about the environmental norms, blatantly flouted by the illegal units, usually in connivance with local administration and politicians.
Even though much of the debate has bordered around the religious sentiments of the Hindu community, which revers the cow, and the ruling party's alleged attempts to encourage vegetarianism, a much neglected aspect is its environmental implications. Slaughterhouses are listed under the 'red' category (amid those industries with highest release of effluents and pollutants in environment) of industries, which are considered heavily polluting and are covered under the central action plan for consent management.
This essentially means that abattoirs are counted amid industries that are most polluting for water bodies, and if unregulated can be a serious menace to public health.
According to a list put out by the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board in 2015, of the 129 industrial units (deemed very hazardous for the environment) that have not installed anti-pollution devices, 44 units are slaughterhouses.
What clearances are required before an abattoir can operate legally in UP?
There are no records of illegal slaughterhouses available officially. However, according to industry insiders, there could be an estimated 140 abattoirs and over 50,000 meat shops that don't have permission to operate, IANS reported. In the current crackdown, the government has rounded up more than 20 illegal slaughterhouses and several meat shops.
To open a slaughterhouse in India, the applicant is required to apply for land use clearance for opening the unit. However, it is after this step that a series of checks and norms kick in that are specific to this industry. According to Uttar Pradesh's Department of Infrastructue and Industrial development, a No Objection Certificate (NOC) must be obtained from the district authorities and the UPPCB, both of which carry out separate inspections to determine whether the unit is being built in accordance with the set norms.
After UPPCB grants an environmental clearance, the plant owner is then required to approach the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), the Union government's body that regulates the export of all products. Before granting approval for export of the meat, APEDA has its own procedures and series of checks and inspections which are carried out before an NOC is granted.
The slaughterhouses should further operate in accordance with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughter House) Rules, 2001, that outlines further laws to ensure the health and well being of cattle being slaughtered. Amid other things, it requires a large and airy reception, and resting area for the cattle and a compulsory examination by a veterinary doctor, 24 hours before they are slaughtered.
Moreover, an abattoir should also be licensed and registered with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), under the Food Safety (License and Registration of Food Business) Regulations Act, 2011.
Besides, even after the slaughterhouses have obtained these clearances, they are required to maintain standards of operations in accordance with the environmental, hygiene and sanitation, and prevention of animal cruelty norms in their day to day operation.
In May 2015, hearing a plea of an environmental activist, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had ruled that any slaughterhouse that is operating without the necessary permission from local authorities — particularly the UPPCB — should not be allowed to operate. According to a report in The Indian Express, it is this order that the UP government has cited time and again in justifying its action against the slaughterhouses. The NGT also asked UPPCB to form a form a committee that will issue certificates to small shops on a quarterly basis.
The NGT order had come on a petition alleging that "the abattoirs were discharging untreated effluents contaminated with animal waste and blood of slaughtered animals in open drains which go into the tributaries of Ganga and Yamuna, polluting them," according to a PTI report at the time published in OneIndia.
"As per official records, more than 8.5 lakhs cattle are slaughtered annually in Uttar Pradesh, at its 115 registered abattoirs. However, a bare perusal of the records of total export made by the state shows that it is several times higher than the amount mentioned in the records and data maintained by UP," the petitioner had said.
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Updated Date: Mar 30, 2017 19:55:11 IST