Kashmir’s Missing Mutton
Mutton, the all-time favourite diet of Kashmiri populace, is missing from the markets. The non-availability of mutton has created a crisis like situation in Kashmir where people consume around a whopping 51,000 tons of mutton annually.
The trouble started in November last year when Mutton Price Fixation Committee headed by Divisional Commissioner Kashmir came up with a new price list — 480 rupees per Kg — for the retail meat sellers. They refused the government fixed rate giving birth to a crisis that continues even today.
Saturday, Feb 27, divisional administration again held a meeting with mutton dealers and offered a further increase of rupees 35 to the previous rate fixed in November, suggesting the retail rate of the meat as Rs 515 per kg. However, the dealers refused to agree so the stalemate continues.
The ongoing crisis has not only led to an acute shortage of meat in the markets, creating problems for common people but has also rendered thousands of meat sellers, including small traders, jobless. It has also paved the way for black marketing as some of the meat traders continue to sell mutton at desired prices —600 rupees per kg — to those who are in dire need of it.
Earlier, Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA), a local trade body, with the consent of the divisional administration sent a 15-member team – comprising traders, wholesalers, and some journalists – to the mandis outside UT, in December last year, to find out the basic prices and the breakup of expenses like transportation costs, weight loss, fatality losses of the products, road taxes, feeding costs, and so on to finally chalk out a reasonable and acceptable retail price for the meat. The KEA presented its ‘fact-finding report’ along with its recommendations to the authorities on February 17.
On the other hand, an official team was also sent on a fact-finding mission to mandis located at Delhi, Rajasthan, and Punjab to ascertain a reasonable retail price for the meat in December last year. The official team also submitted its report to the government.
KEA team has pegged the wholesale price at Rs 518.5 per kg, while, according to sources, the official team, in its report has capped the wholesale rate for meat at Rs 497 per kg. It had suggested that the retail price should be fixed as Rs 517 per kg.
The mutton wholesalers say that the retail price for meat offered by the government is unrealistic. The authorities, however, allege that the wholesalers and retailers are exploiting the common people by trying to sell the commodity at an illegitimate price. They say that since the price was fixed after thorough analysis and with proper consultation with the experts in November last year and further increase was offered in Saturday’s meeting, the traders must give up their reluctance.
Meanwhile, to tackle black marketing, police and other law enforcement agencies have taken action and filed FIRs against more than sixty retailers since the discord began four months ago and more than three thousand mutton retailers have been on strike since then.
To understand various perspectives and the core of the problem, KASHMIR IMAGES, spoke to the stakeholders.
The government has fixed the meat rate using a proper and standard mechanism and with a systematic consultation of experts from departments such as Sheep Husbandry, Food Safety, Food Supplies, and Consumer Affairs and the Revenue.
Each and everything related to price fixation was taken under consideration and even the meat traders were heard properly and only then a decision was taken and announced. Nobody, therefore, can question this decision.
The meat traders, however, are trying to create their monopoly in this matter and that is not going to happen because we will not allow the exploitation of the consumers.
For that, the law is taking its own course. Even in some cases, FIRs were lodged against the offenders. Also, as many as 78 shops were sealed on public complaints, since the rates were fixed. Many of them, later, were exonerated though, after the local Mohalla Committees and the Awqaf Bodies intervened and assured that these meat sellers will abide by the law.
I assure the people that in terms of price fixation of the meat, the government has taken all the important aspects into consideration. We have offered them (traders) the best. Now there will be no change in our proposition. They, unfortunately, are trying to make a lot of fuss about nothing. Thankfully, people understand all their tactics and that is why they have been cooperating with the administration on this.
However, overpricing cannot be allowed because the trades claim that they are forced to make some undue expenditure while transporting the livestock’ into the Valley. Let them share the problems with authorities so that these are fixed.
Since the government had fixed and announced the mutton prices in November last year and it has offered a further increase in the rates in yesterday’s meeting, now it should stick to its decision. There should be no further evaluation and increase in the rates. People must also cooperate with the authorities on this issue and refuse to encourage overpricing. They must understand that there is no reason to doubt the fairness of the prices fixed by the authorities because these officials have access to all the trade secrets of the livestock industry.
The meat dealers have always been overpricing in compliance with the people at the helm of affairs, in the past. Earlier, the so-called elected governments and their ministers would play a dubious role in facilitating the monopoly of mutton traders for the sake of their political interests or monetary benefits.
For decades, I have seen the meat merchants showing their monopoly in the market. They always used to be hand in glove with the ruling politicians. Had these so-called politicians been sincere, Kashmir, by now, would have grown its own sheep industry to meet the domestic demands. However, they never let it happen.
Let’s hope that the administration does not bow in front of them. It is, however, painful to see that some people encourage retail meat dealers to sell 600 rupees per kg at some places. This is an unethical act on behalf of the people. They must realize that by purchasing meat 600 rupees per kg, they are actually encouraging exploitation to the poor masses.
If you want to understand how much profit a butcher makes, ask him to slaughter a sheep for you. First, he will charge five to six hundred rupees as slaughtering charges, and then he will take internal organs and the skin of the sheep free of cost, and while leaving he will grasp a kilo or so meat as a tip. Calculate all this and you will find you have paid more than fifteen hundred rupees just for slaughtering a sheep. Unfortunately, there is no accountability and monitoring from the side of the administration on these issues. Neither has there been any accountability, in this regard, in the past.
Seeing a deadlock between livestock traders and the administration on the issue of fixing the mutton prices in the Valley, Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA) offered mediation, and finally, the administration allowed us to visit mandis outside Kashmir to ascertain the market prices of the livestock and the problems being faced by the concerned traders.
I, subsequently, led a 15 member team including some journalists to places like Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, and Rajasthan during the last week of December 2020. During our tour, we found different rates for the livestock at different places.
We thoroughly analyzed and recorded each and every bit of the detail from the basic cost of the sheep to transport it to Srinagar market and then prepared a detailed report and presented it to the authorities.
To be brief, after analyzing primal rates at places such as Delhi and Rajasthan livestock markets; Ambala and Amritsar Bakara Mandis and after analyzing transportation charges to ferry the livestock into the valley and considering other expenses, we have suggested that the wholesalers must provide the mutton at the rate of Rs 518.5 per kg (A-grade quality and without any type of inner parts of the animal) to the retailers and then the government should decide the profit of these retailers.
To address the grievances of the traders we have suggested that the vehicles laden with the livestock should be given priority right to proceed on the Srinagar Jammu highway so that the stock reaches here safely, on time, and without loss of the products. Secondly, we have suggested the government intervene to stop the harassment of the drivers and owners of the livestock-laden trucks by the NGOs, officials of different departments, and police at different places on the highway.
During our study tour, we found that the traders are forced to bribe to make livestock-laden trucks pass on the highway.
We have estimated, if the above-mentioned corruption and unjustified taxation at several places on the roads are stopped, the expenditure of transporting a livestock-laden truck to Srinagar can be reduced up to ten thousand rupees and it will eventually help to reduce the retail price of the meat.
We also observed that the huge business of the meat industry in Kashmir is completely unorganized, so we have suggested the government take initiatives to establish it as a well-organized business.
I along with an official of Sheep Husbandry was deputed for analyzing the livestock markets outside Kashmir to ascertain the wholesale market prices of the livestock, by the government.
It was a week-long study tour and we filed a six-page report with some recommendations, to the higher-ups. Since the report is a confidential document, I will not be able to share its details with you.
However, I can tell you that we visited the mandis located in Delhi, Rajasthan, and Amritsar. In our assignment, we looked even into the minute details of trade in these markets and checked the issues, which the traders face while transporting the livestock into the Valley. In our report, we have given some suggestions regarding the grading of the livestock. Now it is up to the higher authorities to consider the report.
In the ongoing meat crisis, our private sheep breeding units are continuously contributing livestock products to the market. There are eighty thousand private sheep breeding units registered with our department and they contribute 33 percent of the total domestic need of the mutton. Since the unemployed youth are coming forward to establish these units, I am sure our production will rise in near future. However, our local production is costlier than the livestock brought in from the outside. That is because we have a harsh winter here, thus unable to feed our livestock on the postures round the year. Our unit holders store the feed for the winter months and these expenses make our products costlier if compared to the product from the places like Rajasthan.
The deadlock over the mutton price issue, despite the recent meeting between government authorities and the dealers on Feb 27, continued because the officers are reluctant to understand the basic issue.
In the meeting, on Saturday, I suggested to these officials that if they really want to regulate mutton prices in Kashmir, they should be dealing with the root cause of the problem, rather than blaming retailers for overpricing.
The root cause of the problem lies in the livestock mandis outside the UT, not in the Valley. It must be understood that the basic rates of the livestock are fixed by the sellers and commission agents sitting in these mandis, not by wholesalers or the retailers in Kashmir. Why does the government allow these commission agents to call the shots? Why these unauthorized trades are being allowed to import livestock-laden vehicles into the Valley and then sell it to local dealers at their desired prices? Even at this point in time when mutton wholesalers are on Hartal in Kashmir, these commission agents, who are hand in glove with the sellers in mandis outside, continue to transport the livestock and sell it here at high prices.
The mutton trade is a huge business, yet the most unorganized business in Kashmir. The government could have made it an organized one by just implementing already existing laws, which prohibit unauthorized dealers to import livestock. The government is taking action against the poor retailers instead. How can the government control the prices on the retail shops when it fails to control the prices at the livestock mandis outside Kashmir?
Mutton wholesalers and retailers, unfortunately, are the most misunderstood community in Kashmir. We are not allowed to do a fair business, as we are being dictated by everyone; by the government, sellers at the mandis, and the commission agents. The government has done nothing to make this trade an organized business. Even our livestock is not insured.
I represent the mutton shopkeepers of Kashmir who are the worst hit of the crisis. This is not a small chunk of people. There are around 3500 mutton dealers across the Valley, who have been jobless for past more than three months now. Then, there are thousands of those who deal with sheep heads, hooves, and internal organs of the livestock. They too have lost their earnings. What is their fault?
The retail mutton traders sell what they receive from the wholesalers and on the prices fixed by these wholesalers. We are victims of the situation. Some of the mutton dealers used to sell just one sheep a day. How much profit do you think they make out of selling a sheep.
Unfortunately, nobody pays heed to our problem, nor are we being heard properly. Even in the meeting on Feb 27, at the divisional commissioner’s office, we were not allowed to explain our grievances. The officials want to dictate terms regarding rates without calculating our expenses. They are unwilling to budge from their decision. Why can’t administrators keep an eye on the fluctuation of the wholesale market prices round the year and hold frequent review meetings to ensure fair pricing and identify the problems before they get accumulated?
In one of our recent meetings with the Divisional Commissioner, he rightly pointed out and asked Director FCS&CA that why it took him four years to hold the rate fixation meeting and why frequent review meetings were not held to ensure the stability of meat prices.
It is totally impossible for us to abide by the prices offered by the government. The administration must ensure justice is done and the review should be done immediately because Meraj-ul-Alam is approaching and people must not suffer on this occasion due to the shortage of meat.