Meatless days

Behind Maharashtra's stringent beef ban is a Jain trust that dreams of farming without tractors

The Viniyog Trust convinced the state government to make cattle slaughter a non-bailable crime.

For many conservative Hindus, Maharashtra’s recent extension of the ban on cow slaughter to bulls and bullocks was a landmark victory. For a small Jain trust in the Mumbai neighbourhood of Borivali, the controversial beef ban is just the beginning of a long fight for a return to an ideal world of sustainable, non-mechanised agriculture.

The Viniyog Parivar Trust claims it is dedicated to “saving the precious cattle bank of the country”. But its intervention in the beef ban legislation has been responsible for some of the most controversial aspects of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976, which was amended and passed by the assembly on March 3.

In 1995, when the BJP-Shiv Sena government in the state first introduced the Act, the Viniyog Trust helped frame at least three important clauses that give it more teeth than the government had originally intended.

It is because of the Trust, for instance, that the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks is now a non-bailable offence. To ensure that animals from Maharashtra are not exported to other states for slaughter, it also pushed for the ban on the export of cattle.

Finally, it was the Trust’s idea to include a provision that shifts the burden of proving the crime of cattle slaughter from the prosecuting state to the accused.

The force behind a stronger law

“In 1995, the state government first presented a draft of the Animal Preservation bill in the assembly, but then withdrew it the next day in order to add some of these suggestions made by us,” said Rajendra Joshi, a trustee of Viniyog Parivar Trust, which has been campaigning against cattle slaughter since it was founded 20 years ago.

A revised bill was tabled again, after incorporating the Trust’s provisions, and was finally cleared this month by the current BJP-Shiv Sena government.

“The provisions we suggested bridge the loopholes in the Act,” said Joshi. “It is important for cattle slaughter to be a non-bailable offence because people usually just vanish after taking bail and are never brought to book.” Similarly, Joshi believes the prosecution must not bear the burden of proving the crime because it could be easily “manoeuvred”.


Rajendra Joshi at the Viniyog Parivar Trust office.


Joshi and his colleagues at the Trust are also working towards an extended beef ban at a national level. "We are campaigning nationally and are in touch with the prime minister's office," said Joshi, who is banking on the BJP-led government to bring about a change in national laws. "We were earlier in touch with the Vajpayee government, but the UPA government was actually against banning cattle slaughter."

Why is the Viniyog Trust so eager to have cattle slaughter and beef consumption criminalised in the state?

Joshi insists it is not for religious reasons, even though “ahimsa is a basic tenet of all religions”. “Cows and their progeny are useful for agriculture, which is the backbone of the nation’s economy,” he said. “Earlier, because people were unable to comprehend this economic reason, cow protection had to be taught to them through religion.”

An idyllic future

The Trust’s vision for the nation’s economy is grand, but starkly different from the development agenda expressed by the current government.

Joshi dreams of a time when agriculture is carried out completely through non-mechanised processes, with almost complete reliance on cattle: bulls for ploughing, dung as manure, cow urine as organic pesticide. His dream includes a return to India’s staple crops of rice, wheat and coarse grains, whose husk would serve as ready fodder for cattle to live on, so that even ageing cows and bulls are not a burden on farmers.

“When we changed our cropping patterns to grow more and more cash crops, it dealt a severe blow to the maintenance of animals,” said Joshi. Moving to mechanised farming along with rampant use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides has only made food more expensive, he said, while also turning agricultural land increasingly barren over the years.

“The barren land is then grabbed by government agencies for building roads, highways and other infrastructure,” said Joshi. “But one has to think – agriculture benefits every single person in the country, while such infrastructure is only meant for some.”

For several years, Joshi pointed out, government policies have been helping to make bullocks useless on farms, like encouraging the chemical fertiliser industry to take over agriculture and allowing the beef trader industry to operate in a centralised manner.

“With the new law, more animals will be available to farmers, who will then see the value of returning to traditional agriculture,” said Joshi. “Cattle will now die their natural deaths scattered across the state, and it will help revive the traditional vocations of chamars and mochis [tanners and cobblers] across the state.”

What of the right to choose one’s diet?

Joshi’s response to beef consumers opposed to the new law is a familiar one. “People can live without eating beef – they are still free to eat chicken, mutton and other meat,” he said. “These days, even people in Western countries are turning vegetarian.”

Dismissing the argument that cattle meat serves as an affordable source of protein for the poor and has been a staple part of the Dalit diet, he claimed, “The Dalit community is not really able to afford beef, and proteins are available in cereals as well. These arguments are just being made by beef traders to protect their occupations.”

For Joshi and the Viniyog Trust, the Maharashtra beef ban is a stepping stone for a larger national campaign to protect cattle and adopt traditional, sustainable agriculture. “The important thing is to weigh your right to choose your food with the larger common good," he said.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.