Covid-19 pandemic has left Mumbai’s only abattoir at Deonar, the largest in India, an unviable option for dealers and traders of mutton. The abattoir that resumed operations on July 3 with stringent guidelines has not seen a single goat or sheep being slaughtered over the last 20 days.
The vacuum left by the city’s sole abattoir is being swiftly filled by a flourishing black market business in the slaughter of animals and sale of meat, with no hygiene checks.
The traders and mutton dealers have called the guidelines issued by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for Deonar as unreasonable and detrimental to business, pushing them to rely on the unregularised and underground markets that have mushroomed across the city.
Pre-pandemic, Deonar was a hub for the sale of goats, sheep and buffalos from across the country. The traders would sell their livestock in the city twice aweek to dealers from Mumbai, across Maharashtra and in neighbouring states. As many as 25,000 animals were sold each day.
While the market and the abattoir shut down in mid-March, the reopening in July has meant little for Deonar.
Under the new guidelines, the traders were told that unsold animals would not be allowed out of the mandi. Also, only 40 vehicles can enter per day and each has to be registered in advance. The sale of livestock has been restricted to only local dealers from Mumbai.
The abattoir, which has a capacity to slaughter about 6,000 goats and sheep, 300 buffalos and another 300 pigs per day, has been allowed to run at 50 per cent of its capacity. Slaughter is allowed between 11 am to 7 pm.
Traders have completely blocked trade at the mandi in protest, which has further led to dealers turning to illegal markets. Animals are traded outside and slaughtered at new gowdowns that have come up in various pockets of Mumbai.
Shanawaz Thanawala, the president of Bombay Mutton Dealers Association, said there was no point reaching the abattoir at 11 am. “When will it reach the market? By 2 pm, the mutton shops have nearly completed their business for the day. One cannot cut the mutton and store for sale the next day.”
However, the supply of meat to the city remains unaffected and the rates have come down, making it cheaper at Rs 550 in retail and as low as Rs 480 in wholesale. This according to Thanawala is because the business has comfortably shifted to the black market. “There is no doubt that the entire demand is being met through black market today. With no traders, dealers have begun procuring livestock through other markets and slaughtering them at either their shops or at small godowns across the city,” said Thanawala.
He added what has made it cheaper is the fact that dealers don’t have to pay any entry and slaughtering fees per animal, which they had to at Deonar.
The restricted timings at the mandi, said Yogesh Shete, General Manager of Deonar abattoir, is to ensure that there is adequate room for sanitisation of the slaughterhouse every day. “One must not forget that we provide these facilities amid Covid-19 pandemic. There needs to enough time left for sanitisation. Even local trains are being run for only essential workers,” he added.
But the dealers have demanded that even if the abattoir is kept open only for eight hours, the timings must be changed to allow slaughter to begin late at night and end at 5.30 am, giving room for traders to supply meat to the city in time.
The traders are also dumbfounded about the guideline that does not allow them to take animals out once they are brought into the mandi.
Mohamad Aslam Qureshi (65), president of All India Sheep and Goats Breeders & Dealers Association, said, “Who will take responsibility for our animals in case they die? They are our animals and we are not allowed to take them back. This ad hoc rule is against fundamental rights. We will not get our animals to sell in the mandi until such rules are done away with.”
Shete said the rule has been put in place only to ensure that traders don’t take unsold animals to other places in the city. “If some traders are asymptomatic carrier of Covid-19, allowing them to roam with their cattle in the city will only make contact tracking a herculean task,” he added.
The meat is also inexpensive because the demand is low, as Hindus do not eat meat during the month of Shravan, and hotels and restaurants are still closed.
The city, however, may face a shortage in the coming days as the demand increases, which will also push up prices, said Gulrez Qureshi, Mumbai president of All India Jamaitul Quresh. He has written to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackery against the late penalty of Rs 500 imposed on dealers over their license renewal.
“When the hotels and restaurants open and demand rises, the same mutton procured through black market cannot be supplied there, as these animals are not checked for any disease. There is little hygiene maintained while slaughtering,” he said.
The traders at Deonar are asked to submit a fitness certificate for animals, who then undergo antimortem and postmortem examinations for any disease by designated vets at the abattoir.“While the BMC is saying that the rules are to improve hygiene and safety, it has only defeated the purpose,” said Aslam Qureshi.
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