THE shortage anxiety that gripped beef consumers in the state over the past weekend has passed off with the resumption of bull supplies to the Goa Meat Complex on Monday. However, the government must have a clear-cut policy and directions to prevent a recurrence of it. The confusion caused by the central government notification on ban on cattle for slaughter being brought to the fairs and markets continues. What is making it worse is the over-enthusiasm of cow vigilantes who block transportation of any cattle suspecting it is cows being taken for slaughter. During the past week, the state law enforcement agencies were slow in stepping in to remove the blockade and restore animal supply to the Goa Meat Complex.
Politicians played their own little games while the beef consumers remained anxious. The Goa Congress chose to criticize the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in the state for its silence on the central government’s rule banning sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets, but the party did little to seek the intervention of the Congress-ruled Karnataka government in lifting the blockade by the cow vigilantes on the Goa-Karnataka border. Union Minister of State for AYUSH Shripad Naik admitted that there was anxiety among Goans over beef shortage, but BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra, during his interaction with the state media recently, chose to skirt the issue. It was only after the supply of cattle was resumed that Agriculture Minister Vijai Sardessai opened up to say that Goa did not come under the purview of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, especially due to the absence of cattle yards in the state. According to him, the Centre’s ban might indirectly affect all the stakeholders – the farmers, meat traders and consumers. This is a realistic view. The state government should take up the issue before the central government and seek changes to the notification so that any misinterpretation of it is not done by cow vigilantes to block transportation of cattle to the state.
Every time there is short supply of cattle for slaughter, there is increase in the price of beef. Prices shoot up not only of beef but also of chicken and mutton. Poorer people can afford only beef as it is the cheapest of all the meats in the market. Any disruption in its supply affects their food plate or claims more money out of their purses. It is dangerous to allow vigilantes therefore to enforce the law according to their whims. The authorities should ensure that only those cattle which have outlived their utility to the farmers and are non-productive are allowed to be sold for slaughter. If sale of unproductive cattle is banned, they would only add to the miseries of the farmers, most of whom are debt-ridden. What to speak of agricultural farmers, even dairy farmers find it hard to maintain unproductive cattle. They leave them in some public lands or simply drive them away from their farms. There are already scores of accidents that have been reported in the state involving stray cattle. In many of such accidents there have been human casualties too. The state has not been able to find adequate land for cattle pounds to house the stray cattle. Most of the efforts made to check abandoned cattle from straying all around have failed. The authorities need to ponder whether a total ban on sale of cattle can be enforced.
It is unfair to blame the media, as Agriculture Minister Vijay Sardessai did, for the beef scarcity in Goa over the last weekend. The media only reported the truth, and the truth was that cattle supplies to the state were blocked by cow vigilantes who were misinterpreting the central government ban. The reports of cattle stock getting exhausted at the Goa Meat Complex were doing the rounds for five days last week, but nobody in the government took cognizance of it and intervened. The media stepped in to wake up the government. The problem was not because of hoarding and artificial scarcity. The shortage was created by the cow vigilantes. No doubt, market forces take advantage of shortage situations. But had the state government quickly intervened, they would have failed to do so. About one-thirds of Goan population consumes beef. It could prove political disadvantageous to the BJP if the cow vigilantes are allowed to block cattle supply in the future arbitrarily. The problem of last week is solved. However, the state government must act promptly if any repetition of the blockade takes place in the future.