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Above: Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath visiting a Kanha Upvan in Lucknow (file picture)/Photo: UNI

Though ban on illegal slaughterhouses was introduced with great fanfare by the UP government, it has backfired, leading to a burgeoning number of bovines who raid crops and attack people 

~By Govind Pant Raju in Lucknow

Recently, the BJP government of Yogi Adityanath held a function in Lucknow to celebrate its first anniversary. The party had fulfilled its poll manifesto and acted on one of its promises—banning illegal slaughterhouses. Due to the non-fulfilment of National Green Tribunal guidelines and negligence in licence renewal, most of the slaughterhouses were closed. With the exception of a few privately held modern abattoirs, most did not make the cut. They had been operating without licences and had no adequate provision for waste disposal nor did they follow minimum hygiene standards.

As the ban materialised, meat traders and slaughterhouses went to the High Court over the issue of licensing. The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court went on to say that no government could dictate the eating habits of people as these were dependent on the individual. On May 12, 2017, the Court ordered that it was the duty of the government to ensure streamlined functioning of slaughterhouses. It also directed the government to issue licences again, and if the applicant fulfilled all the norms, new licences should be issued. The order stated that municipal organisations were responsible for setting up new abattoirs.

Later, the petition was transferred to the Allahabad High Court. Meanwhile, the Adityanath government, through an ordinance, freed municipal bodies from being responsible for slaughterhouses.

This led to a contempt petition being filed before the Lucknow bench of the Court regarding non-compliance with the High Court order. The Court issued a contempt notice to the chief secretary, principal secretary (finance), principal secretary (urban development) and fixed April 10 for the next hearing. It is to be noted that the Lucknow bench had clearly stated at its original hearing that the state government, as well as the municipal corporation, could not free itself of the responsibility regarding the establishment of slaughterhouses.

The irony is that while government books have declared these slaughterhouses shut, meat continues to be sold throughout the state at exorbitant rates, animals are being slaughtered in conditions that make a mockery of the ruling and environmental norms are being openly flouted.

THE REALITY

Prior to the ban, some half-hearted form of supervision and inspection by health officials existed. But now, as there is an official ban on these abattoirs as far as the government is concerned, there exists no need for inspections or checks. Ever since the ruling, prices of mutton and beef have increased by more than Rs 80-100 in Lucknow itself.

There is another concern. The rising population of barren cows and bull calves in villages has become a headache for villagers. While there is a ban on illegal slaughterhouses, there is no restriction on the killing of buffaloes. Thus, barren buffaloes are being purchased by meat traders in some form. Due to the disputed legal status of the cattle, the unapologetic love for these bovines by the state government and the threatening presence of “gaurakshaks”, meat traders have stopped procuring cattle. This has led to a rampant increase in their population. In Purvanchal, western Uttar Pradesh and Bundelkhand, the rising cattle population has led to farmers in many villages being up all night to guard their crops.

VILLAGERS FED UP

In Lakhimpur Kheri, villagers protested by locking up these animals in government schools, while angry farmers in Meerut tied up the livestock on the premises of tehsil offices. Farmers in Gorakhpur are worried that if the government does not solve this problem soon, it could lead to a shortage of food in the area. Owing to the lack of water and fodder in Bundelkhand, the practice of leaving barren animals unattended already existed. Since the government ban, their numbers too have increased rapidly.

According to a survey, the cattle population in Chitrakoot Dham Mandal has increased 1.5 times in the last eight months. The situation is worsening, with the population touching 95,000 in Banda, 1,70,000 in Mahoba, 1,30,000 in Chitrakoot and more than 85,000 in Hamirpur.

Before the ban, some 10,000 animals were sold every month to animal traders from Chitrakoot Dham Mandal. But as that chain was broken, and there are no checks on the cattle population now, road accidents due to them have also increased. Shriram Kushwaha, a beleaguered farmer from Gorakhpur, Adityanath’s constituency, says: “I do not understand what kind of government has come into power that we cannot even sell our animals.” Another villager from the same area explains: “We had two bulls. No one was ready to buy them. One night, we loaded them into the truck and took them away from here. What to do?”

CATTLE MOVEMENT

Even before the Adityanath government’s restrictions, the cattle trade in Uttar Pradesh for local consumption was marginal. Most of the animals were transported by traders from Bihar to West Bengal, from where they were sent to the north-eastern states and even Bangladesh. But all this is now stalled, leading to a growing cattle population.

Worse, in many areas, people have lost their lives due to attacks by these animals. The recent death of BHU student Nidhi Yadav due to a bull attack, caused an uproar. Now the state government has announced the Kanha Upvan scheme to keep such stray animals. In Varanasi, it has allocated 10 acres of land to a Kanha Upvan, but that kind of budget is simply not available.

The government is now even claiming that it will start a scheme for artificial insemination of these animals to solve the problem. While municipal corporations are ill-equipped to handle the situation, animal shelters too are constrained due to space limitations. There are 495 registered gaushalas run by private institutions to care for stray animals. Even though they have government grants, the population has crossed sustainable limits. Moreover, the Kanha scheme is still far from fruition. Thus, the matter requires an urgent and effective plan of action from the government.

The Opposition had also raised the issue in the assembly, the results of which were reflected in the recent by-election losses in Gorakhpur and Phulpur.  While the chief minister’s love for cows is well-known, the responsibility of saving the farmers, their crops and affected areas too lies with him. Adityanath might have to face the inevitable choice: saving the cattle or saving the state.

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