ne of the biggest rackets in the country is of illegal “cold storages”, or “meat processing” factories. Last year I went to Belagavi, Karnataka, to answer a frantic call for help by local residents who had uncovered a number of cold storages or meat processing factories that were killing thousands of buffaloes illegally. I took the local politicians and went to these factories. Getting in was a problem, as the owners, hearing that I had come, had fled and locked the factories. However, I entered and we found ourselves knee deep in blood, thousands of freshly hacked bones, and flies. The place was like the worst part of Hell that one can imagine. This was shown on TV repeatedly and you can see it on the Net even today.
The factory was not a secret operation. It was a large, well-built structure and could not have operated if the police were not part of the pay off system. The local police commissioner had been part and parcel of this enterprise. First he denied that such a factory existed, then he defended their actions. The cows were smuggled in from Goa and then slaughtered in a field. The dead animals were brought into the factory and cut and then the filthy meat packaged and exported. The factory was unlicensed, and yet had been standing there for years. It was shut down and then reopened by the local MP — you can guess why. So, the grammar I should use is present tense not past.
This is such an old scenario that it has made me very cynical about our so-called “police” and local administrations. I unearthed a similar racket in Bihar – a locked “cold storage” next to a police chowki, which resisted any attempt to open it. It had, according to the police, been locked for years. I finally made all the calls to politicians in charge of the state, and we entered the cold storage and found the bodies/meat of at least 15,000 cows. The owner was in Delhi, a Hindu exporter, and his offices were raided here. He had been exporting the meat for years. He ran out of the country and probably only came back when the police assured him that nothing would happen. But my team and I persist and sometimes we are lucky enough to find that rare bureaucrat who is honest and determined to set things right. We have found one in the government in Delhi this year.
The meat industry has three different components. First, there are slaughterhouses where animals are killed and skinned. Second are meat shops where flesh is sold in retail. The third are meat processing factories. After the animals have been killed and skinned in slaughterhouses, they need to be hacked into pieces, deboned, packaged and refrigerated for export. This work is done in meat processing factories. No animal can be slaughtered in a processing factory, only deboning, mincing and packaging is undertaken before refrigeration. Cold storages are part of the meat processing factories and, usually, just rooms with slabs of filthy ice in sawdust, covered with blood. The Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 and Rules provide for separate licensing for each of these three activities.
Let me give you an example from New Delhi. Delhi has only one licensed slaughterhouse, which has its own meat processing unit, at Ghazipur. But numerous meat processing factories have sprung up at Lawrence Road Industrial Area, Keshavpuram, which process carcasses for export. Nobody has ever bothered to find out where the animals were being slaughtered, till the Delhi State Slaughterhouse Monitoring Committee set up an inspection.
The result: The Delhi government has recently shut down two meat processing units in North Delhi owing to gross illegalities in their operation. The violations were initially reported to the MCD in June 2019 after a detailed investigation. The animal husbandry department refused to do anything (the factories could not have run if the animal husbandry inspectors were not on the take). The order for cancellation of their licenses could only be issued after the chief secretary of the Delhi Government intervened in January 2020. For years, these meat factories were running in the name of Sushil Ice Factory and Jagdish Ice Factory. The ownership of the factories had exchanged hands several times. Last year, it was established during an inspection that a cartel was operating these factories. The owner hired a contractor to operate the factory, who hired butchers, but the licenses from the Food Safety Department and Municipal Corporation were obtained in a third person’s name. The licence under the Factories Act was obtained in the name of yet another individual. None of these persons had a real claim in the business, nor did they even work there. This was done to confuse every licencing body, so that, if ever a violation was established, the owners who live in Uttar Pradesh and are of another religious persuasion could shift the blame to some fictitious person, replace him with some other name and carry on this illegal business.
These factories processed more than 800 buffalo carcasses and packaged them for export every month, but had no record of where these animals were being slaughtered. In reality, all these carcasses were sourced from illegal killing fields in rural Uttar Pradesh and a small “fine” was paid to the MCD vets and inspectors to regularise the meat. This process can only be termed as ‘meat laundering’.
A large portion of the meat, which gets exported, comes not from slaughterhouses complying with Indian rules and regulations, but through meat laundering. This is a new system of slaughtering animals illegally at unlicensed locations, packaging the meat for export, paying a small fine to the local body for flouting the rules and exporting the meat as “regularised”. This is happening across the country and is the main reason why India is becoming the largest exporter of beef in the world. Several regulatory regimes, including Food Safety and Standards Act 2006; factories licensing laws of states; water, air and environment protection acts implemented by state pollution control boards and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, govern the slaughter and packaging of meat. For export, additional registration with Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority is required.
Most meat exporters, registered with APEDA, bypass the Food Safety and pollution authorities either by bribing them or taking advantage of the complete lethargy in these departments. APEDA gives registrations easily, without inspections and without any due diligence on where the meat is coming from. APEDA postings are eagerly sought for, as everyone retires a millionaire. Animals are bought illegally by butchers posing as farmers. They buy truckloads of buffaloes from ‘farmers’ markets’ set up to help farmers exchange their animals. These are then transported to illegal slaughterhouses and killed in filthy conditions, village backyards, trenching grounds, streets and alleys. Their bodies are cut up and processed in factories which are used by registered exporters. For every consignment of illegally procured carcasses, a small fine is paid to regularise it before exporting it.
It is important for the health of ordinary Indians that these cartels of meat traders, which are as big as the heroin/cocaine/smack and oxytocin mafia, are broken. APEDA must become less corrupt and the export authorities must step in to stop meat laundering. Undue focus on export must not take away the basic values of protection of cattle, as enshrined in Article 48 of the Constitution. India’s bid to be the largest exporter of beef comes at a great price to the nation. More than 65 lakh buffaloes are killed every year, only for export. Of this, 75 per cent would be cut illegally; so you can imagine how many policemen and local municipal officials, APEDA and export licence in-charges have lined their pockets.
To join the animal welfare movement, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org.