New Delhi, Dec. 7: Beef exports are banned, the commerce ministry said in a press release today.
It has always been — so it seemed a little intriguing why the commerce ministry was restating something that’s always been there in the export policy.
What’s the beef over meat exports'
Plenty. First, the Gujarat elections have raked up an issue that the Vajpayee-led NDA government and every predecessor regime have winked at and tried to gloss over — beef exports.
This time, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has come out with a wishlist for the party that wants to rule Gujarat: ban cow slaughter in the state through an Ordinance modelled on the lines of the one in Uttar Pradesh which carries strong deterrents, including a 10-year prison term for offenders.
Second, beef exports have been rising over the past six years. In 2000-01, beef exports touched 375,000 tons and are projected to rise to 410,000 tons, according to UN trade statistics.
The press release issued today said: “Exports of beef are banned. The prohibition is listed as an item 0201 in the ITC (HS) — Classification of Export and Import items of the Exim Policy 2002-07.” The release said the clarification was being issued because a question had been raised on export of beef, without stating who raised it and where.
Two months ago, there was a storm over a purported Planning Commission recommendation favouring beef export. The real beef was over a plan to earmark an expenditure of over Rs 5,000 crore to set up 65,000 modern and improved slaughterhouses and a national mutton board.
Currently, cow slaughter for domestic consumption is legally permitted in West Bengal and Assam. But it is restricted to over-age animals unfit for work or breeding. The same restriction applies to the slaughter of buffaloes in the whole of India.
Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Kerala do not have any legislation on cow slaughter and so it is virtually allowed. In the rest of the country, cow-slaughter is banned — even for domestic consumption.
Most of the beef exported is of buffaloes, which constitute 45 per cent of the bovine population. India is primarily an exporter of frozen beef to Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and the Gulf. India also became a significant competitor to the European Union in the North African market after the outbreak of mad cow disease in Europe.
Beef exports have been carried out by recategorising it as meat — and the customs inspectors and the government have not bothered to clamp down on what is a big source of forex revenues.
Beef exports continue — but today’s press release is a clear indication that the Vajpayee government does not want to be bush-whacked before a close nerve-tingling election over something that every single regime has preferred to brush under the carpet.
“If an exporter attempts to export beef, the consignment is bound to be seized. If he attempts to export beef by fraudulently labelling it as some other meat, the consignment is bound to be seized and the exporter himself is liable to imprisonment.”
Beef export is a cognisable offence and carries a prison term of three to seven years for people engaging in trading and slaughtering of cows. Their export licences can also be cancelled,” said K.K. Sharma, criminal lawyer.