Yogi Adityanath led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh has started shutting down illegal slaughterhouses in the state after assuming power. This decision, which was one of the key poll promises of the party, has now got embroiled in controversy, thanks some malicious rumour mongering and some well meaning concerns over how the decision seems to do more harm than good.
The harms of closing down these slaughterhouses are mainly about loss of jobs and negative impact on associated industries such as food and leather. One may tend to believe that a few rules can be relaxed and these slaughterhouses should be legalised for ‘greater good’.
But before that, we have to realise that illegal slaughterhouses are not just about not possessing some required government documents (assumed bureaucracy). Often it is about not following required rules related to hygiene, security, and animal welfare.
Let us look at issues involved:
Rules that are ignored: The slaughterhouse industry in India is regulated and all legal slaughterhouses need to comply with Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughter House) Rules [pdf]. For example, before slaughtering the animal one needs to ensure that it isn’t pregnant or doesn’t have an offspring less than three months old, or is under the age of three months. Plus the animal needs to be checked by a veterinary doctor.
Depending on the region where the slaughterhouse is situated, the municipality determines a possible demand and stipulates the number of animals which the house can slaughter. Further, there are 8 rules about the animal’s resting area, 5 rules about lairages, 14 rules about how to slaughter the animals, 26 rules about how the slaughterhouse building should be maintained, 3 rules about engagement, and 2 rules about inspection.
Almost all of these rules are required to ensure that a slaughterhouse is safely and optimally functioning. These rules not only are related to operations, but also about animal welfare and stopping spread of diseases due to contaminated meat.
Cattle smuggling: If one allows illegal or unregulated slaughterhouses, there is no way to ascertain the conditions in which the animals are kept and the source from which the animals are procured. In the absence of the same, possibility of illegal slaughterhouses being complicit in cattle smuggling arises. Cattle is often the only asset or one of the main assets for rural or semi-urban families. Imagine losing an important asset like your house to a financial fraud; for these families, losing the cattle could mean something similar. This is why we often hear news about skirmishes and even bloody violence related to cattle smuggling from the hinterland.
Loss of revenue to the government: While there are speculations of revenue loss due to negative impact on meat industry (with assumptions of all slaughterhouses being closed), there is another aspect to it. Government is already losing a lot of revenue due to functioning of illegal slaughterhouses as they are not disclosing all the details about their operations. Some reports suggest there was only 1 legal slaughterhouse in the state out of a total 126 surveyed. So factoring in the whole of UP, there is substantial loss of revenue to the government exchequer already.
Environmental hazards: Maintaining a slaughterhouse invariably leads to environmental hazards. Alive animals produce solid and liquid waste, which is rarely treated and properly disposed off in illegal slaughterhouses. After their death, the blood mixed water and animal carcass, if not properly disposed off, causes further health and environmental hazards. Any slaughtering activity leaves behind large quantities of by-products like bones, lungs spleen, oesophagus etc. which won’t pose a hazard if they are processed and suitably utilised, but unregulated and illegal slaughterhouses could dump them carelessly causing further environmental and health hazards.
Hazardous work conditions: Not just animals, but the employees too are impacted in illegal slaughterhouses. Considering a general case, a report about US slaughterhouses talked about the slaughterhouses hiring undocumented workers who themselves were subjected to injuries due to a lack of safety equipment. The Prevention of Cruelty against Animals act specifies how the handler needs to be at least 18 years of age and not be suffering from any communicable diseases. Plus the handlers need to have a license before they can work in a slaughterhouse. An illegal slaughterhouse will hardly care to follow these rules.
Being legal doesn’t mean all’s well: Even if a licensed slaughterhouse is being operated in an area, its by no means necessary that it is ascribing to the Prevention of Cruelty against Animals act. At one legal slaughterhouse in Delhi, authorities on an inspection found loads of violations by the slaughterhouse authorities, which included electrocuting animals instead of stunning and having dismal hygiene. If such is the case in a legal and licensed slaughterhouse, one can only wonder about what goes on in the illegal and unregulated ones.