Illegal Cold Storages

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

One of the biggest rackets in the country are of illegal "cold storages"  or "meat processing" factories.  

Last year I went to Belagavi, Karnataka to answer a frantic call for help by local residents who had uncovered a number of cold storages /meat processing factories that were killing thousands of buffaloes illegally. I took the local politicians and went to these factories. Getting in was a problem, as the owners, hearing that I had come, had fled and locked the factories. However, I entered and we found ourselves knee deep in blood, thousands of freshly hacked bones, and flies. The place was like the worst part of Hell that one can imagine. This was shown on TV repeatedly and you can see it on the Net even today.

The factory was not a secret operation. It was a large well built structure and could not have operated if the police were not part of the pay off system. The local police commissioner was found to be part and parcel of this enterprise. First he denied that there was such a factory, then he defended their actions. The cows were smuggled in from Goa and then slaughtered in a field. The dead animals were brought into the factory and cut and then the filthy meat packaged and exported. The factory was unlicensed, and yet had been standing there for years. It was shut down and then reopened by the local MP – you can  guess why. So, the  grammar I should use is present tense not past.

This is such an old scenario that it has made me very cynical about our so called “police” and local administrations. A similar racket was unearthed by me in Bihar – a locked “cold storage” next to a police chowki, which resisted any attempt to open it.  It had, according to the police, been locked for years. I finally made all the calls to politicians in charge of the state, and we entered the cold storage and found the bodies/meat of at least 15,000 cows. The owner was a Delhi person, a Hindu exporter, and his offices were raided here. He had been exporting the meat for years. He ran out of the country and probably only came back when the police assured him that nothing would happen.

But my team and I persist and sometimes we are lucky enough to find that rare bureaucrat who is honest and determined to set things right.

We have found one in the government in Delhi this year.

The meat industry has 3 different components. Firstly, there are slaughterhouses where animals are killed and skinned. Second are meat shops where flesh is sold in retail. The third are Meat Processing Factories. After the animals have been killed and skinned in slaughterhouses, they need to be hacked into pieces, deboned, packaged and refrigerated for export. This work is done in Meat Processing Factories. No animals can be slaughtered in a Processing Factory, only deboning, mincing and packaging is undertaken before refrigeration. Cold storages are part of the Meat Processing Factories and, usually, just rooms with slabs of filthy ice in sawdust, covered with blood.
The Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 and Rules provide for separate licensing for each of these 3 activities.

Let me give you an example from New Delhi. Delhi has only one licensed slaughterhouse which has its own meat processing unit, at Ghazipur. But numerous meat processing factories have sprung up at Lawrence Road Industrial Area, Keshavpuram, which process carcasses for export. Nobody has ever bothered to find out where the animals were being slaughtered, till the Delhi State Slaughterhouse Monitoring Committee set up an inspection.
The result : The Delhi Government has recently shut down two meat processing units in North Delhi owing to gross illegalities in their operation. The violations were initially reported to the MCD in June 2019 after a detailed investigation. The Animal Husbandry department refused to do anything (the factories could not have run if the animal husbandry inspectors were not on the take). The order for cancellation of their licenses could only be done after the Chief Secretary of the Delhi Government intervened in January 2020. For years, these meat factories were running in the name of Sushil Ice Factory and Jagdish Ice Factory. The ownership of the factories had exchanged hands several times. Last year, it was established during an inspection that a cartel was operating these factories. The owner hired a contractor to operate the factory, who hired butchers, but the licenses from the Food Safety Department and Municipal Corporation were obtained in a third person's name. The license under the Factories Act was obtained in the name of yet another individual. None of these persons had a real claim in the business, nor did they even work there. This was done to confuse every licensing body so that, if ever a violation was established, the owners who live in Uttar Pradesh and are of another religious persuasion could shift the blame to some fictitious person, replace him with some other name and carry on this illegal business. 

These Factories processed more than 800 buffalo carcasses and packaged them for export every month, but had no records of where these animals were being slaughtered. In reality, all these carcasses were sourced from illegal killing fields in rural Uttar Pradesh and a small “fine” was paid to the MCD vets and inspectors  to regularise the meat. This process can only be termed as Meat Laundering. 

A large portion of the meat, which gets exported, comes not from slaughterhouses complying with Indian Rules and Regulations, but through Meat Laundering. This is a new system of slaughtering animals illegally at unlicensed locations, packaging the meat for export, paying a small fine to the local body for flouting the Rules and exporting the meat as “regularised”. This is happening across the country and is the main reason why India is becoming the largest exporter of beef in the world. 
Slaughter and packaging of meat is governed by several regulatory regimes – Food Safety and Standards Act 2006, Factories Licensing laws of the states, Water, Air and Environment Protection Acts implemented by the State Pollution Control Boards and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, among several others. For export, additional registration with Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority is required.
Most meat exporters, registered with APEDA, bypass the Food Safety and pollution authorities either by bribing or taking advantage of the complete lethargy in these departments. APEDA gives registrations easily, without any inspections and without any due diligence on where the meat is coming from. APEDA postings are eagerly sought for, as everyone retires a millionaire. Animals are bought illegally by butchers, posing as farmers and buying truckloads of buffaloes from “farmers’ markets” set up to help farmers exchange their animals. These are then trucked to illegal slaughterhouses and killed in filthy conditions, village backyards, trenching grounds, streets and alleys. Their bodies are cut up and processed in factories which are used by Registered Exporters. For every consignment of illegally procured carcasses, a small fine is paid to regularise it before exporting it.
Each of these Meat Processing Units, operating in the garb of Ice Factories, packaged beef for 20 different brands for export. No ante mortem, post mortem or laboratory examination reports were maintained. No records were maintained regarding the slaughterhouse source for the carcasses, confirming that slaughter was conducted in unregistered places, usually in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. In order to legitimize such consignments of meat, veterinary doctors of Municipal Corporation of Delhi used to levy a small penalty. The unauthorized meat consignments lack necessary permissions from the Government of the source state as well as the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi. According to protocol, such consignments need to be checked at the State border by the MCD/ Delhi Government and subsequently destroyed by inspecting officials. However, till date no consignment of the illegal meat has been stopped, or destroyed, at the border or in these factories. This highlights the extent of systemic corruption, wherein Municipal Authorities, represented by veterinary doctors and the Police, are guilty of colluding with meat traders. The meat mafia continues to flourish with impunity.

The inspection of meat processing factories revealed that these factories did not even meet basic infrastructure requirements, such as adequate flooring, ceiling, tiling, lighting, ventilation conditions etc., that are needed to operate a meat factory in a hygienic manner. Facilities for sanitation and waste disposal, as well as the use of machinery appropriate for meat processing, were found lacking. Factory labourers were employed without proper employment records and were paid very little. Labour law violations, pertaining to Employment Provident Fund / Employment Insurance System, were established. At every stage, food safety laws had been violated .

The inspection committee found that the MCD had permitted other trades to operate on the same premises as the meat processing factories and cold storages. For instance, ice, food grains (pulses, rice etc) could be stored in the same floor area in which meat processing activities were being carried out. This is a very dangerous practice that impacts food safety and public health.
The Food Safety Department is required to regulate food processing businesses, but not one case had been booked against the factory owners of the meat processing units in Delhi, despite the fact that they operated the units without the mandatory license. While the conditions, in the Licensing and Registration Regulations 2011 under the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006, are far from being met, the regulators are complicit in allowing them to operate.
It is important for the health of ordinary Indians that these cartels of meat traders, which are as big as the heroin/cocaine/smack and oxytocin mafias, are broken up. APEDA must become less corrupt and the export authorities must step in to stop Meat Laundering. There are State Slaughterhouse Monitoring Committees, which have been appointed by the Supreme Court. None of them work, but the Supreme Court must take monthly reports from them. The state has a duty to ensure that the slaughter of animals is conducted only in places duly licensed by the Food Safety Department, State Pollution Control Board and has an NOC from the Local Body. Moreover, it should meet with all the conditions mandated in the Slaughterhouse Rules 2001, promulgated under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960. 
Scores of other meat processing Units in Bihar, Maharashtra, Karnataka are working on similar lines and need to be brought under regulation. Undue focus on export must not take away the basic values of protection of cattle, as enshrined in the Article 48 of the Constitution of India. India's bid to be the largest exporter of beef comes at a great price to the nation. In 2018-19 1,23,66,38,398 kilograms of beef was exported to 84 countries. More than 65 lakh buffaloes killed every year, only for export. Of this , 75% would be cut illegally- so you can imagine how many policemen and local municipal officials, APEDA and export licence in-charges have lined their pockets.