Article in Indian Express
Who has the licence to kill?
Written by Bibek Debroy, member of Niti Aayog.
“All urban slaughterhouses, as well as the butchers and flayers working there, should be licensed, and entry to slaughterhouses strictly regulated. Greater proportion of the income derived from slaughterhouses should be spent on their upkeep, efficient running and improvement.” I can quote much more in the same vein. This isn’t something the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has said. It’s a quote from a committee set up in 1955 (report submitted in 1957) by the ministry of food and agriculture about slaughterhouses and meat inspection practices. Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, there are the2001 prevention of cruelty to animals (slaughterhouse) rules. Section 3(1) states, “No person shall slaughter any animal within a municipal area except in a slaughterhouse recognised or licensed by the concerned authority empowered under the law for the time being in force.” The rules go on to specify the amenities in slaughterhouses and lairages and the processes for slaughter.
Under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, we also have the food safety and standards (licensing and registration of food businesses) regulations of 2011. From Schedule 1 of this, a Central license will be required for “all slaughterhouses equipped to slaughter more than 50 large animals or 150 or more small animals including sheep and goats or 1,000 or more poultry birds per day.” We thus have a dual FSSAI (the authority under the Food Safety and Standards Act) and municipal registration/licence for the high-end slaughterhouses and only a municipal registration/licence for others.
There is no getting away from some kind of registration/licence — with slaughterhouses divided into ovine (sheep), caprine (goats), suilline (pigs), bovine (cattle), poultry and fish. Those are actually FSSAI registration heads, not municipal ones. We have FSSAI data from last year when the health minister gave a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha. Sixty-two slaughterhouses are registered with the FSSAI. Twenty are from UP and every other state has less than 10. Assuming all those who should get registered under the FSSAI do so, this is a remarkably small number. Through the department of animal husbandry, dairying and fisheries, because of an RTI query, we also have data for 2014 on the number of registered slaughterhouses. This is “as reported by states/UT governments” and is therefore about municipal ones. The total number comes to 1,623, with more than 100 in Andhra Pradesh (183), Maharashtra (316), Tamil Nadu (130) and UP (285). A state like West Bengal has a mere 11. We want registration because amenities and conditions improve and clearly, these are gross underestimates.
There have been writ petitions and special leave petitions in the Supreme Court since 2001. To quote from a 2014 order of the SC, “We notice that there is no periodic supervision or inspection of the various slaughterhouses functioning in various parts of the country. Action Taken Reports would indicate that, in many states, slaughterhouses are functioning without any licence and even the licensed slaughterhouses are not following the various provisions as well as the guidelines issued by the MoEF, which we have already referred to in our earlier orders.” There is also the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which tells us there are 3,600 authorised slaughterhouses, compared to the other figure of 1,623. If we go back to 1992, that 3,600 figure becomes more specific, because we have a CPCB industry document on slaughterhouses, meat and seafood processing.
This tells us: “As reported by the Ministry of Food Processing, a total of 3,616 recognised slaughterhouses” exist. With that cut-off of 100, there are 343 in Andhra Pradesh, 633 in Karnataka, 715 in Kerala, 261 in MP, 282 in Maharashtra, 380 in Rajasthan, 183 in Tamil Nadu and 407 UP. Rather remarkably, West Bengal still has 11. These are recognised/registered slaughter-houses. Therefore, the two sets of numbers (from 1992 and 2014) should be comparable.
With the exception of West Bengal, where the figure of 11 is frozen in time, the story is one of declining numbers across states. Unless slaughterhouses are deliberately deregistering themselves, and an explanation can be advanced for that, what has probably occurred is some have simply closed down, unable to comply with better standards and enforcement. It is no different from the story of pharmaceutical firms. Indeed, there should be fewer small slaughterhouses and more large ones. But the picture gets muddier if you bring in cases before the NGT. That happens because environmental clearances and pollution control norms are required. One such case was from UP and the CPCB told the NGT that out of 126 slaughterhouses in UP, only one possessed all the requisite clearances. In the same case, the UP Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) reported 58 slaughterhouses. Even on recognised/registered ones, we seem to have no clear handle on the numbers. It gets worse if you bring in the unregistered ones.
Unless it is a slaughterhouse outside a municipal area, unlike other segments of the economy where informal doesn’t necessarily mean illegal, in this case, unregistered is identical with illegal. I have seen figures that show there are 40,000 slaughterhouses. They are not just illegal, some are ancient.
There is one in Tangra, a 150-year-old slaughterhouse, that the Kolkata Municipal Corporation is now modernising. For all one knows, the one Robert Clive constructed in 1760 still exists. The Tannery road/Pottery road complex in Bengaluru is also ancient. We do have a municipal governance problem.
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