Anger was palpable in the Borabanda cattle market in Hyderabad, the day after the media woke up to the cow-loving central government’s fresh restrictions on sale of cattle in markets across the country.
Borabanda is a suburb to the west of Hyderabad. The weekly cattle market, called a santha, predates the area’s urbanization and today lies cheek by jowl beside a bustling commercial and residential locality called Erragada.
Some 400 heads of cattle are sold at the santha each week. More than 60 per cent of them are destined to the slaughterhouse. Hundreds of people make a livelihood from the market — traders, drivers, middlemen, farmers. It is also frequented by buffalo buyers and sellers, mostly meat exporters, every Sunday.
A large part of this activity will come to a standstill if the Centre’s rules are enforced.
Telangana has 19 such markets run by the state’s Agriculture Marketing Department in addition to the local cattle markets run by the state’s 8,750 gram panchayats.
At the Kaverammapeta weekly cattle market in Jadcherla, farmers seemed flummoxed by the new rules.
“Our lives would be ruined,” said Jayant Reddy, a farmer from Manapuram village. “I brought two cows here to sell. I can’t afford to keep them. I would get a good price if I sold them to butchers. Farmers would not give me as much.”
The communities most likely to be affected by the ban — butchers and small farmers — are unsurprisingly the first to react to the new rules. For the latter, crippled by debt and drought, this is a double blow after the crash in red chilli prices this month.
Farmer leaders said this was a cruel blow. “More than 80 per cent of farmers in Telangana are small farmers. They cannot afford to keep cattle if they are not raising a crop. And it’s difficult to find another farmer who’ll buy a bullock now. Farmers sell their cattle for slaughter if they are in financial difficulty or if they need money for a family function. What are they to do now,” asked B Chandra Reddy, vice-president of the Telangana State Rytu Sangham.
The other group that’s hit the hardest are people of the Qureish community from which many of the cattle traders and butchers hail.
“More than 90 per cent of cattle traders are Muslims.If the new rule is enforced, their lives will be destroyed,” said Faheem Qureshi, president of the All India Jamiatul Quresh Action Committee, which has said it will challenge the rules in court.
“It is not just us but lakhs of others are bound to be affected, everyone who is dependent on cattle. Each part of an animal — blood, tail hair, horns, bones and skin – is used by a wide range of industries,” Qureshi added.
The notification is rather a coy piece of work. It does not specifically ban sale for slaughter. It forbids sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter at animal markets. However, as most sales at cattle markets are for slaughter, it amounts to a de facto ban.
“Farmers bring cattle to santhas because they can get a better price,” said a trader at the Borabanda santha in Hyderabad. “Here meat exporters compete with farmers to buy. The seller benefits.”
Buffalo meat exporters too have a sad face to pull. “Buying cattle at santhas makes it easier for us as there is a vet available who can certify an animal (mandatory as per the law).
Buying from farmers individually is impossible. Where would you get a vet in a village?” said an official of Al-Kabeer, one of the largest exporters of buffalo meat in the country.
Dr Sagari Ramdas, veterinary scientist and member of the Food Sovereignty Alliance, says slaughter plays an important role in maintaining the livestock population. Citing the example of Brazil, one of the largest beef exporters, she says the country has a higher population of the Ongole bull than Andhra Pradesh, where the prized breed originates from. One reason for this, she says, is due to the cycle of breeding, selling and buying and slaughtering which keeps the breed robust.
Further, she warns of a consequence unforeseen by the cow lovers in Delhi. If the right of a farmer to sell his cattle to whomever he wants is snatched, he will just stop rearing cattle.
This will in turn result in a reduction of the livestock population, especially of native breeds.
“This has been observed in Haryana and Maharashtra, two states which have implemented a ban on beef. Not just this, the population of stray cattle will increase as farmers will have no option but to let loose their unproductive cattle. In Maharashtra there has been a three-fold increase in stray cattle since beef ban,” she adds.
Keeping cattle can be expensive, especially in the off-season. A farmer would have to spend about Rs 150 per day on the roughly 20 kg of fodder a good cow would consume, apart from providing a minimum of 10 litres of water a day.
On the other hand, a farmer would get between Rs 12,000 and Rs 30,000 if he sold the animal for slaughter, depending on its weight.
If an animal is healthy and useful for agriculture or dairy, then selling it for the same purpose would fetch as much as Rs 1lakh for a pair depending on the breed, size, strength, utility, colour and other aspects.
However, if the animal is not productive for either purpose, it will command no demand in the market except for slaughter.
What can go wrong if farmers are barred from selling for slaughter?
1. Low prices for their cattle
2. Costly cattle to keep at times of drought
3. Abandonment of unproductive cattle
4. Increase in stray cattle
5. Setback to cattle breeding
6. Loss of breed vigour in native breeds
7. Higher cost of acquisition of cattle for slaughter. #KhabarLive