Bovine slaughter ban in Karnataka will hit the farmers hard

In its new avatar, the ban on cow slaughter includes bulls and buffaloes. Stray cattle menace stares in the face of the authorities.

Bengaluru: Karnataka has clamped a strict ban on sale of beef since January 5 following promulgation of an ordinance banning slaughter of cows and bulls of all ages and buffaloes under the age of 13 years.

Although there has been a law against slaughter of cows in the State since 1974, it prevented only slaughter of cows. The new and more stringent law has added bulls and buffaloes aged 13 and less. The ordinance was brought in following the failure of Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of cattle Bill 2020 from being passed in the upper house of the Karnataka legislature. The BJP could not muster enough numbers in the house and pandemonium that broke out in the house led to the adjournment on the last day when the bill was moved. Following this, Yediyurappa Government took the ordinance path and Governor Vajubhai Vala duly signed the law to be enforced with immediate effect. Consequently, the beef shops were closed from the next day. The slaughterhouses can now only slaughter unproductive buffaloes after being duly certified by the relevant authorities. However the buffalo-beef is not a popular commodity in southern districts of Karnataka including capital Bengaluru where majority of people from weaker sections including Dalits, STs and OBCs prefer cow beef.

With the ordinance coming into force, Karnataka has joined states like Rajasthan, UP and MP, where stringent laws exist to punish killing of cows and other bovine animals for consumption of beef. The provisions include ban on slaughter, sale of beef and transport of cattle for the purpose of slaughter. The media has highlighted the loopholes which may be exploited by the cow vigilantes to harass people transporting buffaloes for certification of age. Several newspapers have deplored the imposition of ban on cow slaughter which prohibits sale of cows and bulls by farmers who find them unproductive after certain age. Farmer organizations have demanded review of the law as a single head of unproductive cattle would require fodder costing Rs. 100 a day. Such farmers would then turn to the option of letting off the cattle free in the habitations. These would be a threat to standing crops in villages and traffic menace in the urban areas.

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Karnataka is one of the leading states where beef is consumed by several sections of people and also exported. The state’s production of beef in 2019-20 was put at 20,382 tons. The State accounts for a population of 84 lakh cattle head and around 30 lakh of buffaloes. In the same year, 1.81 lakh cattle (whole of India 50.55 lakh) and 56,332 buffaloes (all-India 4.62 lakh) buffaloes were slaughtered for the purpose of meat. Besides these, the slaughter of cattle and buffaloes sustains 164 leather tanning units which exported leather worth Rs. 562 crore in 2019-20.

Capital Bengaluru accounted for maximum consumption of beef in the State where nearly 40% of beef produced in the State is consumed (2019-20). With a cosmopolitan populace and vast number of people from the North Eastern States, Kebab shops do a brisk sale all across the city throughout the day. Besides, Karnataka supplied a good amount of beef to Goa which gets 30% of its supplies from districts of Belgavi, Raichur, Vijayapura and Haveri. However only 2-3% of the large animals slaughtered are buffaloes in Bengaluru.

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The above statistics make it evident that a large number of people in the trade—the sellers of cattle, employed in slaughterhouses, traders, the staff at meat shops—will be impacted by the ban on slaughter of bulls and buffaloes. This is all likely to push price of mutton upwards which is already selling at Rs.700 a kg.

However the ban is all likely to hit the farmers severely who used to sell off unproductive cows or buffaloes to beef traders and slaughterhouses. They will now need to maintain these unproductive cattle and feed them fodder at their own expense.  Moreover the fodder is not available in summer months. The Janata Dal Secular members raised the issue but the party leadership is currently not in a mood to take any stiff stance against the BJP government, given the several ED cases against its leader H D Kumaraswamy who has been of late making favourable noises vis-à-vis the Yediyurappa Government. But JDS vote bank majorly lies in rural South Karnataka among the Vokkaliga community, which has been the mainstay of its legislative harvest.

The ban would mean that the unproductive cattle would now roam the streets of the villages and the cities in Karnataka, replicating the scenes in Uttar Pradesh. The State has only 159 gaushalas (cow shelters) run by the Dept of Animal Husbandry for which Rs. 4.5 crore were from the State exchequer in 2019-20. It is now estimated that the State may need 1,500 gaushalas to accommodate the unproductive cattle thus saved from the slaughterhouses.

M A Siraj is senior journalist based in Bengaluru. He writes for several publications in the country.

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