Maharashtra's Beef With Beef

Beef is off the shelves and menus after Maharashtra banned the slaughter of bulls and bullocks. So what are beef eaters to do?

President Pranab Mukherjee on March 3 gave his assent to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, which bans the slaughter of bulls and bullocks in the state. This comes nearly 19 years after the Maharashtra Assembly passed the Bill during the BJP-Shiv Sena rule in 1995. According to the new Act, the punishment for the sale or possession of beef could be imprisonment for five years with an additional fine of Rs 10,000.

Anil D’Souza, the owner of Joseph Cold Storage in Mumbai, says that almost 70,000 to 90,000 kg of beef used to be sold in the city every day. His store alone used to report sales of 200 kg on a daily basis. As a direct consequence of the ban on beef, the prices of mutton, chicken and even fish have shot up, by as much as 30 per cent.

Cows, which are slaughtered globally for beef, have been legally protected in the state since 1976, thanks to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, which banned the slaughter of cows. So, 80 per cent of the beef available in Maharashtra was from the meat of bulls and bullocks, while water buffaloes made up for just 20 per cent of the requirement. The meat from buffaloes is called carabeef, and is considered an inferior quality of meat.

Right now we are all nervous to do business and we are not interested in selling any sort of beef unless things are clear. We do not want to get on the wrong side of the law.

The Bill, however, does not prohibit the slaughter of water buffaloes. This means that restaurants and eateries in Mumbai can still continue to sell carabeef. But due to the ambiguity caused by the Bill, restaurateurs are confused and scared. Some restaurants, like Leopold Café and PJ’s, are only serving beef dishes till their current stock runs out. Others, like Imbiss and Bombay Canteen, have decided to remove all beef dishes from their menus till there is more clarity.

“We have contacted legal experts to understand the technicalities of the Bill. Once we know what is allowed and what is not, we will take a decision. For now, we are not serving any kind of beef. The beef we used to serve was imported from Australia,” said the Manager of a popular restro-bar in Khar, requesting anonymity. The fear among restaurant owners was evident when most of them refused to comment on the issue.

D’Souza voiced the concern among beef vendors and traders. “Right now we are all nervous to do business and we are not interested in selling any sort of beef unless things are clear. We do not want to get on the wrong side of the law,” he said.

The repercussions of this ban are being felt in Goa as well, which used to receive beef from the abattoirs in Maharashtra. The stores in Goa are reporting a massive shortage and had to shut shop after the ban was implemented. In Goa, according to official estimates, between 3,00,000 to 5,00,000 kgs of beef is consumed in a single day. All of this beef comes from outside the state and Maharashtra was their biggest supplier.

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