How the Prohibition on Sale of Cattle for Slaughter Has Affected Every Stage of the Meat-Industry Supply Chain

Indian livestock vendors wait for customers at an animal market in Allahabad, ahead of Eid al-Adha, on 10 September 2016. SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP/Getty Images
08 June, 2017

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?”

In defence of the new rules, the central government stated that it allows the purchase of cattle for slaughter from farmers directly. When I proposed this solution to Ismail, he told me that farmers or their agents bring buffaloes to the market in single-digit numbers, which is not enough to meet Allana’s demand. He asked, “We don’t know the area, and how can I get a supply of 125 buffaloes everyday from a village?” Mohammad Shakeel, a 50-year-old man who was also a part of the delegation of suppliers, added that the vast area within which the suppliers buy their cattle made it difficult to approach farmers directly. “We work within a radius of 50–60 kilometres,” he said.

The rules have made it difficult for these individual suppliers to meet the quota demanded by the company. The farmers and aggregators are scared to sell their cattle at the animal markets, because of which the suppliers are unable to buy enough cattle for the company. Shakeel told me that the suppliers send their contractual workers every day to several animal markets to buy buffaloes. He said it was the only way for the suppliers to meet the company’s daily quota, before adding that the situation has changed since the notification of the livestock-markets rules. The animal markets no longer have enough cattle, he told me. “Ab koi quota pura nahi karna chahta, bas kharcha nikal jaya to alhamdulillah”—Now nobody is concerned about meeting the quota, we thank god if we are able to make ends meet.

Damodaran said that it also was economically infeasible for a farmer to sell directly to a slaughterhouse because farmers in India do not have more than ten animals normally, of which a maximum of two would be sold in a year. “If I [a farmer] would take one or two animals to the slaughterhouse, it will cost the same as carrying 12-13 animals,” he said, adding that as a result, aggregators are the better option for farmers. Damodaran said that unlike in countries such as the United States of America and Australia, in India, “there is no difference between milch buffalo or slaughter buffalo.” The new rules and the government’s justification for it would imply that a person could buy cattle for agricultural purposes at an animal market, but for slaughter, she would have to buy the cattle from a farmer directly. Damodaran believed that this distinction did not make sense. “I [a farmer] milk the buffaloes till they are eight or nine years old and then afterward I will sell them. When there are no distinct categories of farmers, how can you have distinct categories of livestock markets?”

Fauzan M Alav, the spokesperson for the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association, too, dismissed the possibility of suppliers buying the cattle directly from the farmers, when I spoke to him at his office in Delhi. Alav told me that these animal markets have been the meeting points of buyers and sellers for generations. “It is common sense bhai, how will this butcher in Delhi know that person A or B is willing to sell his animals?” He added that that various aspects of the policy were “totally impractical.”  “Ghazipur mandi, from where meat is supplied to Delhi, is two kilometers away from the UP border. If the mandi is pushed to 25 kilometers from the state border, according to these rules, then the only solution is to have the mandi in CP [Connaught Place] or Lok Kalyan Marg.”

Soon after the suppliers left, I met Dr Amarjeet Singh Sidhu, the head veterinarian at Allana who works in its research and development department. When I asked him why the company did not set up its own farms, similar to ones in other countries such as the USA, he said that it required a lot of investment and land. “In India, land is a big issue, so the animal will always be supplied by the farmers.”

The next day, I went to an animal market in Sikandra Rao, which is situated around 40 kilometres from Aligarh city. For the most part, unproductive animals are sold at this market. It is spread over land measuring more than seven acres and filled with buffaloes, goats, sheep, people looking to buy and sell animals, vegetable vendors, and other small street-vendors. There were around 300–400 animals at the market that day, which I later learnt is less than half of the number of animals that used to be present in the market before the notification of the new rules. Every Wednesday, farmers and aggregators bring their animals to the market at 5 am. The commissioning agents and employees of suppliers roam through the market, examining the animals. When a deal is made, the buyer and the seller go to a shed where the landowner of the market registers the details of the transaction, charges a fee of Rs 30–50, and issues a form to both the buyer and seller. By 11 am, all the business in the market concludes.

I approached a man sitting alone in a small cemented shed at the beginning of the market. The man was the 62-year-old landowner of the market and introduced himself to me as Hafeez Mohammad Sabir. “This [market] is a gift from my ancestors, we have been here for 200 years,” he told me. Sabir said he charges a commissioning fee of Rs 30 on every animal that is sold. “Halaat kharab hai”—The situation is bad, he added. Before 23 May, Sabir said, “around 800 animal would get sold. Now it has come down to 300–400.” Sabir told me that the aggregators and farmers were scared because they faced a lot of harassment from the police and cow protection groups.

As I spoke to Sabir, a crowd gathered around us. Among the crowd was Ram Dari, an aggregator belonging to the Dalit community. Dari told me he takes 10–15 buffaloes every week to different animal markets and earns a commission of around Rs 500 per buffalo. He added that most aggregators were scared of coming to the animal markets after the notification of the livestock-markets rules. When I asked him whether he had faced any harassment, he told me, “Yes, Bajrang Dal [a prominent faction of the Sangh Parivar] workers took a buffalo previous month [May].” “I suffered a loss of Rs 20,000,” he said. I asked him if he was scared about his continued visits to the markets, and his response reflected that his choice was guided not by a lack of fear, but a fear of the alternative: “I don’t want to become a labourer.” That day, Dari told me he had brought three buffaloes and had managed to earn Rs 500 in total by selling two of them.

When I posed the same question to Mohammad Tahir, a 60-year-old aggregator at the market, he told me that there were thousands of people in his profession who would “die of hunger if we don’t come to the market.” Tahir said he travels to villages near an animal market the day before it opens, and then sells the cattle he buys from the villagers at the market the next day. Usually, he said, he gets ten buffaloes to the market every day. “Since the last week, I was only able to bring three–four,” he added

The commissioning agents were also facing a financial crunch because of the new rules. Bijay Kumar Thakur, a 45-year-old commissioning agent I met at the Sikandra Rao market, told me, “Kuch kamayi nahi ho rahi”—I am not earning anything. “I have sold animals worth Rs 25,000 for Rs 18,000–22,000.” When I asked him why he didn’t take the animals home rather than selling them at a loss, he said, “I have got the animals from a distance of 25–30 kilometres and I have neither space nor food for them.” He said that the suppliers were getting harassed by groups such as Bajrang Dal and were not buying buffaloes. According to Damodaran, the activities of these groups had begun after Adityanath’s elevation as the chief minister of the state, but that they had now gained “widespread legitimacy” because “they can cite the law.”

The new rules have not only affected farmers and suppliers, but also daily-wage workers such as Nazar Hussain, a 40-year-old truck conductor who transports the animals from the animal markets to the slaughterhouses. Before 24 May, Hussain said, “I would earn around Rs 600 a day for ten animals, now it is just Rs 250–300.” I met Hussain inside Sabir’s shed in Sikandra Rao market. He said he had not earned any money that day. “There are no animals in the market only.” Other drivers echoed the same concerns. “For the past four days, every morning I pay Rs 3,000 for diesel, and go back home without work,” Mohammad Akbar, a 50-year-old truck driver, told me.

The lack of animals in the market also affected small vendors who sell neck bells and ropes for animals. Maleek Khan and Santosh, two such vendors at the Sikandra Rao market, were dissatisfied with their earnings and told me that were thinking of not coming to the market from the following week. “Sales worth Rs 1,000 are also not happening,” Khan told me.

Around 25 kilometres from the Sikandra Rao market is the Kailora animal market, where both productive and unproductive animals are sold. The market was almost empty when I reached the area.

Punkaj Thakur, a 65-year-old man, is the owner of the land on which the market is situated. He was sitting in a plastic chair in his office, which had the appearance of an abandoned building. He asked me how many animals I saw at Sikandra Rao and told me that it used to be the biggest market in Aligarh three years ago. He added that the business at the Kailora market, like Sikandra Rao, had been affected recently, since the change of regime in the Uttar Pradesh state government. “Last Thursday, I could count the number of animals here, there were only 40.” He added that earlier, “There would be so many that I could not count them.” But since the Adityanath-led government came to power, “farzi log”—disingenuous people—“who said they belong to the Vishva Hindu Parisad, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Durga Vahini, started taking Rs 2000–3000 from people who were trading in the market.”

Thakur, too, told me it was difficult for the farmers to sell the cattle to the suppliers directly. “Kati ghar ka naam sun kar hi uski hawa nikal jati hai”—The farmer gets scared as soon as he hears about slaughterhouse, he said. He added that a farmer would only sell the cattle to an aggregator who sells it at the market, even if the farmer could make more money selling it directly. When I asked Thakur what will happen post these rules, his response was curt: “Kisan marega, aur kya”—The farmer will die, what else.