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7-min read

As Markets Empty, Chaos and Panic Grip Uttar Pradesh Meat Sellers

For frequent visitors, Kotla market near Meerut’s iconic Ghantaghar would now seem unfamiliar territory.

Uday Singh Rana | News18.com@UdaySRana

Updated:March 27, 2017, 5:43 PM IST
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As Markets Empty, Chaos and Panic Grip Uttar Pradesh Meat Sellers
The photo here shows downed shutters in Kotla market near Meerut’s iconic Ghantaghar . It is the result of recent crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses by the Yogi Adityanath government in UP.

Meerut: For frequent visitors, Kotla market near Meerut’s iconic Ghantaghar would now seem unfamiliar territory.

The market, lined with meat shops on either side, is almost unrecognisable. On any weekend day, the market would be flooded by customers, both Hindu and Muslims, milling around the 25 shops in the area to buy chicken and mutton. This Sunday, however, the market bore a deserted look. A few boys sat idly on the side of the streets and curtains were drawn over the shops.

A man peaked out from behind a green curtain and called out, “Janaab, chicken chahiye kya? (Sir, do you want chicken?)” “Bade ka milega kya? (Can I get buffalo meat anywhere?)” this reporter asked. “Poore Meerut mein bade ka meat kahin nahi milega (You won’t find buffalo meat anywhere in Meerut),” he replied.

When asked why he was operating from behind a curtain, the shopkeeper said, “We have been asked by the Nagar Nigam (Meerut Municipal Corporation) to draw curtains over our shop and discretely continue our work. We have a licence to sell chicken and mutton but it is expiring at by end of March. We don’t know what will happen once the licence expires.

The administration is in no mood to renew our licence.”

Not far from Ghantaghar is Meerut’s Gudri Bazaar, a 300-year-old market. Legend has it that this was a favorite destination for British officers who wanted their livestock slaughtered.

For 78-year-old Mohammed Asif, the present state government’s attitude towards them is “worse than that of the British”. “This market has existed for centuries and it has never been this empty on a Sunday. BJP governments have come in the past but nobody has been this draconian. In fact, we have a lot of respect for leaders like Rajnath Singh. There are eight members in our household and this is the only source of livelihood for us. How are we expected to live?”

In all, there are 4,000 such meat shops in and around Meerut city. According to officials, only around 250 of these have valid licences and these are set to expire soon. While most shops have been “sealed”, many have decided to shut on their own. This is either due to a fear of persecution or simply due to a lack of supply. This has come in the backdrop of the Yogi Adityanath government’s move to act decisively against illegal slaughterhouses.

Meerut mkt

A cattle transporter, on condition of anonymity, told News18, “I used to transport 50 buffaloes a day to various abattoirs across the city and earned a small commission from it. It is a completely legitimate business. For the last week, I have had to stop my work. The problem is that farmers have completely stopped coming to the painth (cattle fairs).”

He added, “A painth is usually held in rural areas, far from the city. Farmers say they would rather not bring cattle to the fair lest policemen stop them on the way and demand bribes. A bigger fear, though, is Hindutva outfits resorting to vigilante justice. There are horror stories in the hinterland about these groups raiding transporters and looting the cattle. A man’s house near Gudri Bazaar was raided earlier this week on his daughter’s wedding day. They seized the buffalo he had got for the feast and arrested the man. There is complete panic among both buyers and sellers of meat.”

Many, such as former Meerut Mayor and Lok Sabha MP from 2004 to 2009 Haji Shahid Akhlaq, felt the government order against illegal abattoirs in the state has led to unwanted collateral damage. Akhlaq, who is also the chairman and MD of Al-Saqib Meat Exporters, said this was caused by overzealous officials eager to please the ruling party.

“I have been on both sides of the table. I am one of the largest meat exporters in the region and I have also been in-charge of the civic body as Mayor. The problem is that officials don’t even understand the difference between a slaughterhouse and other meat-related businesses. I own one integrated slaughterhouse and three meat processing plants.

Gudri Bazaar Meerut (300-year-old market) 2

My slaughterhouse, for which all the paperwork is in place, has not been sealed but I had to shut it because there was no supply. However, the Meerut Development Authority (MDA) sealed my processing plants over flimsy excuses. They said I didn’t get the map of the plant cleared. However, my plants came up before the area was even under the MDA’s jurisdiction. The way some officials are acting is totally unconstitutional,” he said.

Imran Qureshi, son of veteran BSP leader Yaqub Qureshi and the Managing Director of Al-Faheem Meat Exports, says the worst of the impact has been on small-scale meat sellers.

“For many people, this is their only source of income. The BJP came to power on the promise of ‘Sabka saath, sabka vikaas’ (Development for all). How can they condone a move that causes such large scale unemployment? Legal abattoirs employ lakhs across the state. My company owns one integrated slaughterhouse in Meerut. That alone employs 800 people directly and over 1,500 people, including contractors and transporters, depend on us for work.”

In Bulandshahr district’s Khurja town, around 80 kms from Meerut, Faheemuddin Qureshi is in a state of shock. Four months ago, when he was hit by the demonetisation of high-value currency notes, he had to shut his slaughterhouse due to a lack of capital. This new development comes as double whammy for him.

“When I had to shut my business in November, after demonetisation, I thought I could never get back up on my feet again. I thought I was ruined. I suffered huge losses and all my workers had gone back to their villages in Bihar and Bengal. Once my cashflow got better, I started calling up my workers, around 400 of them, and asked them to come back. I convinced them that things were getting better. They came back and things were on track until Sunday. There is a meat supply crisis. Despite having all licences, I had to shut my business. Now my workers have started to go back. How will I ever convince them to come back? Will they believe me for a second time?” he said.

Bulandshahr District Magistrate (DM) AK Singh claimed they were trying to make things as smooth as possible for legal slaughterhouses and meat shops. He said: “The problem is that many traders are not aware that the process for getting permissions has changed. Earlier, they had to get licences from the Nagar Palika. Three years ago, the rules changed and the Nagar Palika could only give No Objection Certificates (NOCs). The licences are now granted by the Food Safety Department. Most people have closed shop out of panic. I have repeatedly assured them that the government is only acting against illegal abattoirs and they need not worry. That is why we are trying to implement a single-window-clearance system for legitimate businesses. We will help them get back on track.”

A District Magistrate, posted in a key western UP district, told News18 on condition of anonymity, “There is a lot of senseless crackdown happening everywhere in UP. A lot of local newspaper reporters are making matters worse by putting pressure on the administration. In my district, I want to follow the proper procedure because unless that is done, it will create needless panic. We will first see if standards are being met before pulling shutters everywhere. Officials cannot become activists. This is a matter of people’s livelihoods.”

Back at Meerut’s Gudri Bazaar, an idle meat shop owner was contemplating a change of profession. “Agar nahi mili permission toh karobar badlenge. Parchoon ki dukaan khol lenge (If I don’t get permission, then I will have to change my trade. Maybe I will open a grocery shop)."

Sealed

However, the septuagenarian Asif interjects, “An old dog cannot learn new tricks. Humare baap-daada humein yeh kaam sikha gaye aur humne apne bachchon ko yeh kaam sikhaya hai. Iske siwa humein aur kuch aata nahi (Our forefathers taught us this trade and we taught it to our children. We have no other skills). Besides, meat shops are the soul of Gudri Bazaar. Angrez bhi yahan se meat lekar jaya karte the (Even the British bought their meat from here). We can’t kill the culture of a 300-year-old street market in one stroke.”

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| Edited by: Ashutosh Tripathi
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