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Blood on the streets

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Chickens and goats are routinely slaughtered on the roadside throughout Calcutta. But a rumpus has broken out over the cruelty and hazards that such practices entail. At the receiving end is the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) which may be charged with contempt of court if it does not act quickly to implement its own notification to stop this menace.

The row over illegal meat shops began in the late 1990s when school students wrote letters to the Compassionate Crusaders Trust (CCT), a city-based animal welfare organisation, to say that they were being forced to view animals being killed and walk over blood while waiting for school buses. CCT, in turn, approached the KMC to take action against unauthorised meat shops in the city.

“We voiced our concern by writing to the then municipal commissioner, Asim Burman. In response to our complaint, the KMC issued a notification to curb the practice,” says Debasis Chakrabarti, founder, CCT.

The KMC notification of August 12, 1997, states: “the open slaughter and sale of sheep, goats or chickens near the marketplaces or on the pavements or roads is unhealthy and prohibited by law.” The notification says that such slaughter has to be stopped within a month failing which the entire livestock will be seized and the unauthorised sellers sued.

“Unfortunately, no one took any notice of this announcement and illegal slaughtering of animals continues throughout the city,” says Chakrabarti. His view is shared by G.K. Sen, proprietor of G.K. Sen and Associates, a firm that conducted a survey of slaughterhouses in Calcutta last year. “Animals are being illegally slaughtered even now and the enforcement of laws is lax,” says Sen.

The slaughter of animals comes under the purview of several laws. “The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughterhouse) Rules, 2001, clearly lay down the modalities of slaughter and the responsibilities of public bodies that are responsible for dealing with related offences and fixing the penalty,” explains Pradip Kumar Ray, advocate at the Calcutta High Court and a social activist. Among other things, no animal is supposed to be slaughtered in sight of another animal and no animal not certified by a veterinary doctor as fit to be slaughtered is supposed to be killed.

Ray says that since these laws were openly being flouted despite the notification and articles that had been published in the press, a writ petition was filed in the high court by a citizen as a public interest litigation in early 2007. The petition asked for immediate implementation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughterhouse Rules), 2001. In response to this petition, Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghosh and Biswanath Sammadar of the Calcutta High Court issued a directive to the KMC on March 19, 2007, to implement the notice it had issued in 1997. The directive called for steps against those who had been violating the notice and asked the municipal commissioner to take measures to ensure that meat shop owners were adhering to the norms of slaughter as laid out in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Slaughterhouse Rules), 2001.

However, according to Ray, the KMC has not followed the latest High Court order. “The petitioner of the case is now thinking of taking steps under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, against the municipal commissioner of KMC to enforce the court’s order to minimise this public health hazard,” he says.

The hazards from unauthorised slaughterhouses are principally those from the waste generated from slaughter and the unhygienic meat produced. The waste consists of vegetable matter such as rumen, dung and stomach contents and animal matter including offal, tissues, meat trimmings and bones. City environmentalists recognise the dangers from such waste if not properly treated and disposed of.

“The meat produced from roadside shops is extremely unhygienic with a risk of salmonella bacteria infecting people,” states Bonani Kakkar, founder-member of PUBLIC (People United for a Better Living in Calcutta). But the rule, she believes, needs to be followed by the people. “The issue of the dangers posed by roadside meat shops is beyond the law and it is a matter of public conscience,” she says.

According to her, the high court directive would be very difficult to implement if consumers keep buying meat from illegal meat shops.

The danger of pollution from slaughterhouses is also highlighted by noted environmentalist Subhas Dutta, who points out that untreated waste and blood from slaughterhouses enters drains. “Rivers too are getting polluted due to the dumping of slaughterhouse waste,” he says.

The KMC, however, maintains that action is being taken to curb the menace. “The original notification was our own circular and we are dealing with it seriously,” says the city mayor, Bikas Ranjan Bhattacharya.

Bhattacharya admits that there has been some slackness in implementing the 1997 circular. He adds that this issue involves a lot of awareness on the part of the public and that the Municipal Corporation Act of 1980 lays down guidelines for slaughtering animals.

According to Section 427 of the Municipal Corporation Act, “no person shall, without the general or special permission of the municipal commissioner, sell any animal in any municipal market.” The Act, under Section 426, also states that the mayor has the authority to close down any slaughterhouse in a municipal area.

The issue of pollution by slaughterhouses also comes under the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986 and the West Bengal Pollution Control Board is trying to deal with the problem. “We have been working on the environmental impact of slaughterhouses in this state since 1999,” says Bishwojit Mukherjee, senior law officer, department of environment, West Bengal. “West Bengal slaughters the maximum number of animals in India but there is not even one organised slaughterhouse in the state.”

Perhaps, Ray argues, a contempt of court petition will jerk the KMC into taking some concrete action to tackle the dangers posed by the unauthorised meat shops.

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