Editor's Note: A few days after Yogi Adityanath took charge as the new chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, and issued proclamations that his government would vigorously pursue and prosecute those "malfeasants" engaged in — variously — the running of illegal slaughterhouses, and harassing women on the streets, Firstpost asked Arpit Parashar to file ground reports documenting the doings of law enforcement forces deployed to shut meat shops, and apprehend "Romeos". This is the third in a multi-part series of stories Parashar sent us.
After the BJP government came to power in Uttar Pradesh and Yogi Adityanath took oath as the chief minister of the state, the police and the bureaucracy were asked to clamp down on the illegal slaughterhouses in the state, which they have duly done over the past few weeks with an iron fist. However, in the urge to implement the 'rules' by the book, the state government has ended up encouraging the bureaucracy to exploit the call for implementation for 'law and order' by forcing even regular and license-holding meat sellers to cough up exorbitant amounts of money in bribes to keep their shops open.
Riyaz Mohammad, who used to run his chicken shop in the Sector-9 area of Noida, which is also called the meat market because of the large cluster of meat shops in the area, was asked to deposit Rs 2 lakh with the officials of the Noida Authority to reopen his shop despite the fact that the license issued by the Department of Food Safety and Drug Administration of the state government is valid till 2020. "They said this was a security deposit which had to be paid but that no receipt will be given for this. It will just be to ensure that no action is taken against us and our shops are allowed to remain open. We know this is just a bribe," he says.
Apart from the officials, the policemen also came calling on his shop asking him to shell out Rs 50,000 as bribe-cum-security deposit to keep his shop running. "Their argument was that the rate of bribe to be paid to the police has gone up and that it would now be implemented from 2014 when the BJP had come to power at the Centre." This entails a monthly payment of Rs 500-1000 per meat shop, which was only Rs 200 earlier.
The policemen have asked meat sellers to pay as per the revised rate, which means depositing 10,000-30,000 per shop depending on its size and sales, as well as deposit hefty amounts as security to ensure that no action is taken against them in the near future.
Junaid Ahmed, who represents many pockets of Noida and Ghaziabad in the loosely organised Uttar Pradesh meat sellers' union, says, "They have threatened that no shop will be allowed to open without paying these bribes. They have instilled fear in us that they would act against us on the smallest complaint received even if we managed to open our shops based on the legal paper work. Such complaints can even be concocted or politically motivated since the BJP workers want to see us suffer. It is blatant extortion." The meat sellers across the state, especially in the National Capital Region (NCR) districts of Noida, Ghaziabad and Meerut have held many dharnas outside the offices of district magistrates as well as police headquarters and demanded that the extortion in the name of implementation of 'law and order' be stopped but to no avail.
A senior police official from Ghaziabad, speaking on the condition of anonymity, nonchalantly said that when the notebandi happened many of the policemen lost their savings, which were presumably their earnings from bribes received through various means. "Many of them even gave the money back to a lot of people and distributed it among various relatives or even shop owners from their areas. This opportunity now is the way to earn some of it back." And so the meat sellers simply have to compensate for the empty pockets of the policemen by coughing up hefty sums.
This move is politically motivated too.
Lokesh Mishra, a BJP worker from the Vijay Nagar area in Ghaziabad, says, "Under the previous (Samajwadi Party government) rule these meat sellers would openly side with the SP or BSP but not support the BJP. They would arm-twist the policemen too by opening shops all over the district without even procuring licenses. Now that the police are cracking down on them they are making all sorts of noises on exploitation. They deserve it."
This political patronage has allowed the police and administration officials to implement their own set of rules and terms of engagement on the ground. Most of the meat sellers did procure licenses from the state government, which were issued under the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006. Junaid Ahmed says, "Very few meat shop owners from among the people I know were running their shops without licenses. The police are working to extort money despite that." Among the shop owners from the meat market area in sector-9, for example, 47 shops have been forced shut despite the fact that all of them have licenses and required permissions valid till at least next year; many got licenses renewed only last year and so can run their shops freely till 2021, as per the law.
The plight of the meat shop owners whose licenses have recently expired is worse. They have been asked to deposit between Rs 3-5 lakh as 'security' which is non-refundable. Hearing a petition on the delay in issuing licenses to meat shop owners in the state, the Allahabad High Court has come down heavily on the Yogi government. Pulling up the state government for mal-administration in the civic bodies, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court issued an order on April 3 directing it to ensure that licenses of mutton and chicken shop keepers which expired on March 31 are renewed within a week. The bench also issued orders that within the administration must also provide facilities for a slaughter house for goats and chicken at the distance of every two kilometers within 10 days.
The two-judge bench of Justice AP Shahi and Justice Sanjay Harkoli, hearing a PIL filed by Saeed Ahmed and others from the Bahraich district, pulled up the state government acknowledging that the non-renewal of licenses has adversely affected the livelihood of lakhs of people in the state. The petitioners had pleaded that their shops had been rendered illegal simply because the administration had been acting in an unconstitutional manner. The bench has warned the government that it will be held accountable for implementation of its orders, fixing April 30 as the next date for hearing.
But the administration officials are in no mood to relent across the state. Leave along renewing licenses within a week, as per the HC orders, even the people holding valid licenses have not been allowed to open shop unless they have coughed up the exorbitant sums demanded by administration and police officials. The meat market in sector-9 only has a handful of meat shops open now while others are simply living off savings and hoping to borrow money from various sources to fill the pockets of the officials in return for 'permission' to resume their livelihoods.
Updated Date: Apr 11, 2017 13:56 PM