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Worry, confusion for West Bengal cattle traders after sale-for-slaughter ban

LiveMint logoLiveMint 28-05-2017 Arkamoy Dutta Majumdar

Pandua (West Bengal): Most cattle traders at Pandua in West Bengal’s Hooghly district, 80km from Kolkata, hadn’t known when they set out from their homes on Saturday that selling cows for slaughter had been banned.

But when they reached the market in Pandua in the early hours of Sunday, they were told by the managers that their trade had been declared illegal by the centre. They were, however, not forced to return with their livestock.

Up in arms against the notification, agitated traders stopped Mint from taking pictures even as hundreds of cows changed hands, loaded into trucks and despatched for being slaughtered.

Sheikh Raju, one of the four managers of the market, said traders bring cows from states such as Bihar, Jharkhand and even Uttar Pradesh and sell them in Pandua to be taken to abattoirs.

But the managers didn’t shut the market on Sunday because there was no instruction yet from the district administration, according to Raju.

Though initially reluctant to speak, traders slowly opened up. Though a draft of the new regulations was made public in January, traders said they didn’t see the ban coming.

Business at Pandua has been on a slippery slope for the past few years, they said, requesting anonymity. Though selling cows for slaughter was not illegal until now, traders said both sellers and buyers had to yield to rampant bribery.

“The going rate is Rs150 per cow,” said a buyer from Kolkata, who asked not to be named. The money is paid at a police check-post close to the market. This money is, in turn, distributed among the police, district officials and political leaders, he added. And this isn’t the only one—there are many more check-posts on the way to Kolkata.

As a result, the price of livestock has shot up and business at Pandua has contracted to less than half. A few years ago, traders would have to queue up to enter the designated yard, and many would conclude their sale outside it, but now the yard barely gets filled, said Raju.

Even as the West Bengal government consults lawyers over the controversial ban on sale of cows and buffaloes through village markets for the purpose of slaughter, district officials in Hooghly wondered how it could be implemented.

Though market authorities have been asked to maintain detailed records of buyers and sellers, how is it possible to keep track of a cow sold at a market like Pandua and taken far away, asked a district official. He also requested anonymity.

“The regulation says a cow bought at such a market cannot be slaughtered, but what if the buyer said the animal had broken loose,” he asked.

Leather goods makers in Kolkata described the new regulations as a “death sentence” for 3.5 million workers. Zia Nafiz, whose firm supplies finished leather and leather goods for celebrated brands, said his customers in Europe had already started to enquire if he will be able to continue supply.

“For the first time on a Saturday, I received a call from London,” said Nafiz, a partner in Nafiz Tanning Industries. “People at Marks and Spencer have already started to ask if they should look elsewhere for supplies.”

Almost 77% of the leather processed by the industry comes from cows and buffaloes, said Nafiz. For now, the industry has stock that will last a few months, but if the ban is implemented, Christmas despatches which are to start in September would be “severely disrupted”, Nafiz said.

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