The West Bengal Consumer Affairs Department has begun a suo motu case against 36 food outlets in Kolkata, North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas districts for their involvement in the rotten meat racket that rocked the state in April and May, The Indian Express reported on Thursday.

The police have so far arrested 13 people for being involved in supplying meat from animal carcasses to small eateries and restaurants in the state. Reports of the racket had led to a nearly 60% drop in meat consumption in the state in May.

“The police will continue with their probe, but the cases in consumer court will be resolved faster and if the charges are proved, fines will be imposed on them,” State Minister for Consumer Affairs Sadhan Pande said. “The fines will be deposited in the Consumer Welfare Fund. The move was made after a clearance from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The consumer affairs department has already checked the legal aspects of it.”

Under Section 12 (1)(d) of the State Consumer Protection Act, the state government can seek compensation of up to Rs 1 crore.

The case

On April 20, three men were arrested in Budge Budge, about 28 kilometres outside Kolkata, suspected of transporting carcasses from dump yards. Six days later, when the police raided an ice factory in Kolkata’s Rajabazar area, they found over 18,000 kg of rotten meat, packaged and ready to be sold. It wasn’t clear from what kind of animals the meat had been obtained.

The people conducting the operation would reportedly mix rotten meat with fresh meat and package it in bags bearing the labels of well-known companies, the police said. The packets were sold at markets in Kolkata and beyond, in states such as Jharkhand, Odisha and Bihar, the police said. The police believe that most of the rotten meat made its way into the cold cuts market.

A Special Investigation Team constituted by the Trinamool Congress government raided eateries and meat markets across the city, leading to more harrowing discoveries. On April 27, a wholesale chicken outlet in Kolkata’s Newtown area was found to have five freezers full of rotten meat, in addition to housing sick birds. Soon after, the owners of some restaurants admitted to buying chicken from the offending seller. On May 3, a team led by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation seized and destroyed 100 kg of rotten meat in Kolkata’s New Market area.

The police allege that rogue staff members of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation would tip off meat racketeers the moment they spotted an animal carcass being dropped off at a dumping ground.