Ayaz Siddiqui, the general manager of operations at Frigerio Conserva Allana Private Limited, or Allana, a subsidiary of Allanasons—one of the biggest exporters of buffalo meat in India—has not been sleeping well. Siddiqui told me this when I met him at the Allana office in Aligarh on 30 May 2017. “Every night I get calls from suppliers,” he said. He said some of them are highly distressed because the agents who normally sell them the buffaloes are no longer bringing animals to the market. Later, he showed me a spreadsheet on his phone. “Look at our production, today we have only slaughtered 612 [buffaloes], usually it is around 1,800 a day.” Siddiqui told me that this was a result of a recent notification issued by the central government. He added that there were rumours were circulating among those selling the buffaloes that police officers in Aligarh were stopping sellers and telling them that the animal markets were shut down. “The markets are still operating, but the rumours are taking a toll on the business,” he said.
On 23 May, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change issued a notification titled the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017. The rules introduce a slew of regulations on the sale and purchase of cattle, including even bullocks and buffaloes, which were earlier excluded from the ambit of regulations on cattle slaughter. The most contentious aspect of the rules is a prohibition on the sale and purchase of cattle for the purpose of slaughter from an animal market. The rules provide a broad definition of “animal market,” which includes even lairages, and prohibit the existence of an animal market within 25 kilometres of a state border and within 50 kilometres of an international border.
According to Harish Damodaran, the rural affairs and agriculture editor at the Indian Express, the rules “will not get implemented on the ground.” “Farmers will come onto the streets [in protest] within two months,” he told me. When a farmer “will have to sell the animal and there is no one to sell it to, he will be ruined,” he added. During the course of my reporting, I visited the Allana office and two animal markets in and around Aligarh. It became evident that along with the farmers, the adverse impact of the new rules was borne by every stakeholder in the cattle-meat industry’s supply chain.
At the start of the supply chain is the primary source of cattle in the industry—the farmer, who would typically have a small number of cattle for their own use. The cattle are sold at an animal market when they become unproductive—if they stop producing milk or become old or weak. Though farmers may go to the market and sell the cattle themselves, they are normally sold through an aggregator, who travels to several villages, buys the cattle from the farmers and sells them at the animal market for a slightly higher price. The companies that distribute or export the meat, such as Allana, buy the cattle at these animal markets. These companies employ suppliers on contract to supply cattle to meet the company’s demand for meat production. These suppliers, in turn, either have employees who buy the cattle on behalf of the company from various animal markets, or they buy cattle from commissioning agents, who operate locally out of the animal markets and receive a commission on each animal sold to the company. While aggregators buy cattle from different farmers and sell them at an animal market, commissioning agents buy cattle from different animal markets and sell them to the suppliers or the companies. The cattle are then slaughtered at abattoirs owned and operated by these companies, and sold across India and the world.
On 30 May, I travelled to Aligarh, which is a central location for the meat-processing industry with a large number of cattle traders and slaughterhouses. At the Allana office, I met a delegation of around 13 suppliers who are registered on contract with the company as its cattle suppliers. The delegation was visiting the office for a periodic meeting, which included a discussion on the recently introduced rules. There was silence in the room when I asked them whether they had read the rules. Hero Khan, a 28-year-old supplier from Hasangarh village, told me that his family read the rules and told him, “Ab paith band ho jayaga, aur Aadhaar card se bhains bechega kisan”—Now the markets will close and the farmer will use an Aadhaar card to sell their buffaloes. Mohammad Ismail, a 29-year-old supplier, asked me, “How will he [a farmer] sell his animal without a market?”