The closure of Uttar Pradesh's slaughterhouses could leave a couple of million people jobless in the state, affect its allied industries and choke small but important revenue streams for its poor farmers, especially in drought-prone areas, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of available data on India's meat, leather and livestock industries.
Half of Uttar Pradesh's licensed slaughterhouses and scores of illegal ones have been closed after an order from new Chief Minister Yogi Aditya Nath against those that do not follow the law.
The drive against slaughterhouses could impact three critical industries: Meat packaging, livestock and leather. With some of the worst development indicators, stagnant agriculture and industry, India's most populous state is also one of its poorest with the second-highest unemployment rate — after Jharkhand — among eight most socio-economically backward states.
With a population of 200 million people, equivalent to the population of Brazil, the state's economy is the size of the tiny middle-eastern country of Qatar, which has 2.4 million people, the same as the town of Bijnore.
In 2015-16, more people per 1,000 were unemployed in Uttar Pradesh (58), compared to the Indian average (37), and youth unemployment was especially high, with 148 for every 1,000 people between the ages of 18 and 29 years unemployed, compared to the Indian average of 102.
Meat-packing and leather industries make up the major share of India's export earnings, with Uttar Pradesh contributing significantly. It accounted for nearly 43 per cent of buffalo-meat exports in 2015-16, the highest among all states, according to data published by the Agriculture and Processed Food Export Development Authority (APEDA). Leather ranks eighth among India's top export earners, with about 46 per cent of what is produced being exported, according to the Council for Leather Exports (CLE). A third of these exports go from Kanpur in UP, a city where the leather industry is already in crisis.
The Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) election manifesto for the assembly election had promised to shut all illegal slaughterhouses in the state. But "over-enthusiastic" officials — who appeared to be acting indiscriminately, shutting down even abattoirs with licenses — are now being reined in by the government, according to some media reports.
IndiaSpend research shows that the slaughterhouse ecology is complex and supports diverse, rural and urban economic and social systems not just in Uttar Pradesh, but nationwide. Here is a look at the three industries that will be most affected by the campaign.
1. Meat: UP accounts for 43% of India's buffalo-meat exports
Illegal slaughterhouses being targeted by the government dominate the meat market in India: 4,000 are registered and more than 25,000 are not, among units that cater to the domestic market, according to APEDA. Even in the export market, registered and unregistered slaughterhouses both produce meat, APEDA acknowledges.
Uttar Pradesh is the largest producer of meat in India, according to the Agriculture Statistics Report, 2015. In 2014-15, it contributed 21 per cent of the meat produced in India. Of the 75 slaughterhouses registered with the APEDA for meat export, as many as 49 are in Uttar Pradesh. This means the state is likely to have the large number of slaughterhouses, many illegal.
Buffalo meat is a major export from India, going to more than 40 countries. In the 2015-16, Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest buffalo meat export, followed by Maharashtra. In 2015-16, India exported 13.14 lakh metric tonnes (MT) buffalo meat of worth Rs 26,685.42 crore.
There is no reliable estimate of people employed in Uttar Pradesh's slaughterhouses and meat shops, but it is likely to be in tens of thousands. Around 6.7 million are employed in the country's food-processing industry, which includes slaughterhouses and meat processing units, according to the Agriculture Statistics, 2015.
The issue of illegal abattoirs in Uttar Pradesh is not new. The erstwhile Samajwadi Party government had also issued a government order in June 2014 to probe their operations. In May 2015, the National Green Tribunal ordered the state government to act against illegal slaughterhouses to curb the pollution caused by them. The BJP government's move goes a step further, banning not only illegal slaughtering but also licensed mechanical operations, which are mostly legal and focused on exports.
Previous governments, acknowledging the advantage of mechanised slaughter technology over traditional methods in increasing and improving output for the export market, had offered financial assistance for upgrades.
2. Livestock: UP recorded 14% growth, indicating economic dependence
Meat production is entirely dependent on livestock, a sector that contributed nearly 4.11 per cent to India's GDP at current prices in 2012-13. It also contributes nearly 25.6 per cent of output, by value, at current prices in the agriculture, fishing and forestry sectors, according to the Livestock Census Report, 2012.
India houses a significant percentage of the world's livestock. A comparison of the last two livestock censuses reveals a 3.33 per cent decrease in livestock in 2012 compared to 2007. But Uttar Pradesh, along with Gujarat and Assam, registered growth (14 per cent), indicating the economy's dependence on livestock and allied businesses.
Livestock are an important economic resource, especially in rural areas. Cattle, buffalo, goat and sheep are maintained by agricultural families, mostly those with small land holdings, and by landless labourers who use them primarily for milk and also meat. Cattle are also loaned for agriculture and transportation. Poor families sell stray cattle to butchers. In drought-affected areas, such as parts of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, cattle are often sold to tide over economic crises.
3. Leather: Majority of employees from disadvantaged communities
In 2014-15, India leather exports were valued at $6.4 billion (Rs 39,097 crore) and in 2015-16, at $5.8 billion (Rs 38,396 crore), according to Council for Leather Exports data.
The Indian leather industry provides formal and informal employment to 2.5 million people, mostly from disadvantaged communities: A third of leather workers are women and a fourth are scheduled castes and tribes. Leather workers who are not from traditional tanning communities or are not Muslims come from poor agricultural families, according to a study by the Centre for Education and Communication (CEC), an advocacy.
(In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform. Jeet Singh is Associate Fellow, Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, New Delhi. The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend.