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.
The drive against slaughterhouses could impact three critical industries in Uttar Pradesh: meat packaging, livestock and leather. With some of India’s worst development indicators, stagnant agriculture and industry, as IndiaSpend reported in March, India’s most populous state is also one of its poorest with the second-highest unemployment rate – after Jharkhand – among India’s eighth most socioeconomically backward states.
With a population of 200 million people, equivalent to the population of Brasil, Uttar Pradesh’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 the state.
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 in the state unemployed, compared to the Indian average of 102, according to 2015-16 labour ministry data.
Meat-packing and leather industries make up the major share of India’s export earnings, with UP contributing significantly. Uttar Pradesh accounted for nearly 43% of buffalo-meat exports in 2015-16, the highest among all Indian states, according to data published by the Agriculture and Processed Food Export Development Authority or APEDA. Leather ranks eighth among India’s top export earners, with about 46% of what is produced being exported, according to the Council for Leather Exports. A third of these exports go from Kanpur in UP, a city where the leather industry, as IndiaSpend reported in February is already in crisis.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s election manifesto for the Uttar Pradesh 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 industry
Illegal slaughterhouses being targeted by the UP 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 this APEDA report. Even in the export market, registered and unregistered slaughterhouses both produce meat, APEDA acknowledges in this report. Uttar Pradesh accounts for 43% of India’s buffalo-meat exports.
It is also the largest producer of meat in India, according to the Agriculture Statistics Report, 2015. In 2014-;15, it contributed 21% 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 a large number of slaughterhouses, many illegal.
Buffalo meat is a major export from India, going to more than 40 countries. In the 2015-’16, UP recorded the highest buffalo meat export, followed by Maharashtra. In 2015-’16, India exported 13.14 lakh metric tonnes 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 Indians 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 the state 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 focussed 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 dependence
Meat production is entirely dependent on livestock, a sector that contributed nearly 4.11% to India’s GDP at current prices in 2012-’13. It also contributes nearly 25.6% of output, by value, at current prices in the agriculture, fishing and forestry sectors, according to the Livestock Census Report, 2012.
As the table above shows, India houses a significant percentage of the world’s livestock. A comparison of the last two livestock censuses reveals a 3.33% decrease in livestock in 2012 compared to 2007. But Uttar Pradesh along with Gujarat and Assam, registered growth (14%), 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 UP, cattle are often sold to tide over economic crises.
3. Leather as an employer
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, according to this 2009 study by the Labour Bureau of India. 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, an advocacy.
This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.