Interview: ‘Govt Can’t Force Us to Sell Mutton On Low Rates’

Khazir Mohammad Riggo. KO Photo by Auqib Javeed.

DESPITE a local trade body suggesting a way out in its “fact-finding report”, the mutton deadlock is refusing to end in the valley, even as butchers have been directed to open their shops within two days or face action.

However, as a counter move, the butchers have sent legal notice to the concerned authorities, questioning which law permits them to seize the closed shops.

Terming the official stand rigid, the mutton dealers of Kashmir say the ball is in government’s court as “they have to listen to our grievances as well”.

“We have already lost over Rs 400 Cr in last 4 months and we don’t know when this deadlock will end,” the Mutton Dealers Association Kashmir (MDAK) said.

In an interview with Kashmir Observer, Khazir Mohammad Riggo, President MDAK, said his tribe is ready to negotiate with terms and conditions.

Why the crisis about the rates suddenly?

The rate for the meat was fixed in the year 2016 at Rs 400 per kilogram.

The rates have to be revised every year. But when the government failed to do so, mutton traders raised the rates on their own.

However, four months ago, the Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, revised the rates and fixed it at Rs 480 per kilogram from Rs 600.

This was unacceptable to us, as we wouldn’t be able to earn anything out of it.

So we have decided not to sell the meat till the rates are fixed as per our demands.

What are your demands?

See, the government and people as well, have to understand the expenses we have to bear for bringing the livestock from the other states.

We have travel expenses, slaughtering expenses, commercial tap water charges, labour expenses, shop rents, etc.

Then we have to pay animal protection NGOs at Madavpur in Punjab. They charge us Rs 10,000 per truck under the guise of torturing animals.

Its pity that such a huge business is in mess. The traders and the drivers who bring livestock from outside Mandis to Kashmir face mental torture from different agencies. Since nothing is organized, we are in loss.

The government has to look into our problems and try to address them, rather than forcing the rates upon us.

But the government maintains that the current rate is justified by a scientific report submitted by a two-member committee after visiting livestock Mandis outside the valley. 

See, the thing is, the government is itself responsible for the mess.

For example, cattle trade is such a huge industry in J&K, but the government has failed to organise it.

They claim that they have 80,000 sheep breeding units in Jammu and Kashmir, but where is the production? Why do we have to get the cattle from other states?

Every day we get over 50 trucks of cattle from different states. Each truck carries over 140 sheep. That means we daily do a business of over Rs 5 crore with other states.

Why can’t we have the livestock here in Kashmir when the government claims to have set-up breeding units? Wouldn’t that benefit the region only?

But are you satisfied with Kashmir Economic Alliance’s ‘fact-finding committee’ report?

Yes, we are satisfied with the report. They have suggested mutton at Rs 518 per kilogram, with Rs 70 profit. We are even ready to negotiate on our profit. But the Govt is up-ante on Rs 515 per kilogram, without profit.

The KEA committee has proposed that the mutton retail dealers procure Grade (A) meat for Rs 518 per kilogram and it is up to the government to add some profit to this amount for these retailers.

The committee in its report has also made a number of recommendations and suggestions to the authorities, including regulating the business, raising issues with the concerned states to prevent illegal tax collection abroad and urging mutton dealers to adopt better procedures and SOPs so that customers are also served better.

We were hopeful that the government will consider the report and its suggestion.

How many people are associated with this trade in Kashmir?

Over 36000 families are directly related to this trade. Then there are others who are indirectly dependent on it, like those dealing with trotters, and internal organs of the livestock.

Kashmiri Wazas, hoteliers and restaurants are also dependent on this. Most of them are jobless from the last four months and are struggling to feed their families.

How much is the loss? And when will the deadlock end?

We have already suffered a loss of over Rs 400 Cr in the last 4 months, and we don’t know when this deadlock will end.

The government is only dictating terms. They have to listen to our grievances too. The ball is in their court. We are ready to negotiate, but we can’t do business on low rates.

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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