THOUGH they have got a favourable High Court verdict, Goa’s beef traders might have to wait for an indefinite period to get the Goa Meat Complex to slaughter cattle, thanks to bureaucracy. Though the meat complex plant is refurbished and ready, its management has not announced any date for resumption for slaughter. The management is evasive on when slaughter would resume. In the typical bureaucratic language the management says resumption of slaughter activities “is under consideration.” “Certain procedures” have to be followed, they say. One of the things necessary to be done, they plead, is to get approval from the Goa Meat Complex board. However, the management is showing no urgency in setting a date for board meeting. First a date for board meeting has to be set. Then a notice of at least 14 days has to be given to members of the board. Rajendra Prabhugaonkar, the managing director of the Goa Meat Complex, says before convening a board meeting the management would have to ascertain whether the chairman and directors were free to attend the meeting, as though they were foreigners living in other continents! The meat traders feel that this is a delaying tactic on the part of state authorities, who have been putting off resumption of slaughter on one excuse or the other. They regret that the management of the Goa Meat Complex and the state government was not expediting reopening of the complex despite High Court order.
The meat complex has been shut down since 2017 and was made operational to facilitate slaughter of animals during Eid al Adha (Bakri Eid) in August 2018. The closure of the complex led to shortage of beef in the state. Following strong criticism from legislators and consumers the government allowed traders to import beef from Karnataka. The government, however, imposed stiff conditions on beef traders, who allege that they were being unnecessarily harassed by the authorities to please the cow vigilantes. The beef traders who have joined to form Qureshi Meat Traders Association had approached the Bombay High Court at Goa seeking justice. They brought to the notice of the court that despite the fact they had licences and clearances for slaughtering of animals they were not allowed to slaughter the animals because the complex was closed. They also told the court that closure of the complex affected their livelihood and fundamental right to conduct trade. The court directed the government to resume activities at the meat complex as it was the only designated place for slaughter of animals. The court also censured the government for not renewing the licences of beef traders on time and ordered expeditious reopening of the complex.
Cow vigilantes succeeded in building pressures to get the meat complex closed; they also opposed entry of vehicles carrying beef from Karnataka. The issue was highlighted by Deputy Speaker of the Goa Assembly Michael Lobo who, while participating in a debate on the floor of the House, accused cow vigilantes of throwing phenyl on the beef that was brought into the state. Lobo blamed the state government for failing to act against cow vigilantes. In January last year, beef traders had gone on strike alleging harassment by cow vigilante groups. The strike was called off after government assured them that they would be allowed to import meat from Karnataka under police protection. There have been cases of cow vigilantes preventing slaughter of animals during the Bakri Eid, moving from house to house for “supervision and checking.” The self-assignment of extra-judicial powers by themselves infuriated the members of the Muslim community to attack the cow vigilantes in an incident. It led to a law and order situation and the police had to rush in to reestablish peace.
Beef is consumed not only by Goan Muslims and Christians but also sections of other communities. To deny them beef is to deny them right to choice of food. Domestic and foreign tourists are denied beef. Though the government has often said that it was not against consumption of beef by people, it has failed to act against those hindering operation of the meat complex as well as beef import. The cow vigilantes have become bolder since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2012, as they believe they have immunity. The state government must act firmly and take all measures that are needed to allow free trade in beef. The government must take immediate steps to implement the High Court order of resumption of slaughter of animals at the meat complex.