Beef-eating is a crime now. But buffalo meat-eating is not. The only difference is the faith regarding cow slaughter. In a secular nation, if the state is imposing its faith on the preferences of food, it is as bad as banning pork in Pakistan.
The decision to ban beef in Maharashtra has far-reaching implications in politics and in nutritional availability.
India is a meat-eating country and its consumption has been increasing due to the preference for protein food over a carbohydrate-based diet, which is considered an indication of more and more people coming out of hand-to-mouth existence.
In 1981, China consumed 15,000 million tonnes of meat, but it rose to 65,000 million tonnes in 2001. In India, consumption of meat in the same period rose from 2,600 million tonnes to 5,300 million tonnes. Globally, the consumption rose from 1.3 lakh tonnes to 2.3 lakh tonnes.
Between 2001 and 2013, the production of meat in India tripled—from 1.9 million tonnes to 5.9 million tonnes. Maharashtra is one of the top five meat-producing states in the country (5.9 lakh tonnes).
The value of India’s meat market is Rs 1 lakh crore and beef constitutes 13 per cent of it. The blanket ban on beef one fine morning definitely reduces the availability of protein food, especially for poor and working population. In a society where the nutritional status is far below the standard level, the government should explain the nutritional food which can replace beef. The withdrawal of cheap (Rs 30-50 a plate) and easily available local protein food will definitely affect the health standards of the poor and marginalised who are the main consumers of beef.
In the Budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced critical support to the leather industry. But his party in Maharashtra is reducing the supply of skin.
The proponents of beef ban are arguing that it will increase the number of cattle and quantity of milk. Unfortunately, it is a myth. Dr K N Raj who was one of the renowned economists in our country had logically argued that the cattle are well reared in the states having considerable number of beef-eaters like Kerala.
In 1979, a debate on cow slaughter attained national importance. Vinoba Bhave threatened to go on an indefinite fast if cow slaughter was not banned in Kerala and West Bengal. Prof. K Narayanan Nair (Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram) in his working paper (1979) disproved Bhave’s argument and rightly predicted a big boom in Kerala’s meat and milk production. Today Kerala has record milk production of 29 lakh tonnes.
For a farmer, the proceeds from the sale of his cattle after taking maximum advantage of it—milk and farm work—are definitely a bonus. He cannot keep the cattle without any income in a situation where he himself is struggling hard to make the two ends meet. In this context, a good number of farmers will withdraw from cattle-rearing as an occupation and the chances of reduction in milk production are also very high.
The cattle trade in India (in value) may be much larger than the trade of automobile in the rural settings. If the cattle are not to be slaughtered, this traditional trade will come to a halt and will have serious implications for the rural employment.
Let our people choose their own food. The state need not dictate the citizenry in their choices. Even a good number of meat eaters are not choosing beef since this red meat is not good for the sedentary urban lifestyle. For the protein-starved rural communities and poor workers, beef is boon. But the myopic policymaker who can’t see beyond his nose takes decision just to appease his so-called supporters with inflated political ego.
In a country like India, the decision-makers should appreciate the complexities of our socio-political construct. Let them remember, banning a food is nothing but an invitation to hunger.
John is member of Kerala State Planning Board