LAHORE - A survey conducted by The Nation reveals that illegal slaughtering of animals at unhygienic places across Lahore is going on despite tall claims by the city district government for closing them down.

The survey found that in Bakkar Mandi near Kot Kamboh, private slaughter houses run by powerful butchers are very much in business. According to the survey, The Nation has been able to track down over 100 such abattoirs spread across Kot Kamboh, Shahdara, Nishtar Town and Bhatta Chowk, Sadar and other parts of the city. Many of them especially in Kot Kamboh are protected by butcher mafia. From early morning onwards, dealers line up along the Chowk Yateem Khana road trying to draw in customers. These private places, some of which are 'meat shops' where animals are taken apparently to make them Halaal are full of piles of gut, offal and blood left lying around giving out stench that can be smelt from afar.

In Kot Kamboh, many of these sites are well inside "Deras" where intruding civilians are nudged away by sentries. These private places are reportedly more than 50 and owned by influential butchers who have been defying attempts by the authorities to close them down.

One of the officers in the city district government tells the newspaper that the Qasai/butcher mafia is too strong for the authorities to lay hands on it and crack down on illegal slaughter houses and meat shops. The source reveals that while the city district government has been making claims of having dealt with problem, they are just claims meant for winning applause from media.

The survey found that there are no veterinarians available at these private places in order to check if the animal is healthy or is carrying a disease. The obvious danger is that once the animal, no matter how sick, is slaughtered; there is virtually no way to ascertain how harmful it can be for health. Since the absence of a vet makes it convenient for sick animals to be sold and fetch money, private slaughtering is considered a threat to public health and hence is unlawful.

But along with the presence of a doctor, there are other conditions that are equally, if not more important such as the cold storage facility which these private places lack. Also the condition that chopping equipment such as the knives and cleavers are sterilised is neglected. Butchers are frequently seen injecting water in the meat to increase weight.

These powerful butchers and the failure of the city district government to clamp down on their business is hindering the success of a modern slaughter house set up by the Punjab Agriculture and Meat Company at Shahpur Kanjran about 30km from Lahore. According to law, an animal can now be slaughtered only at the Pakistan Agriculture and Meat Company (PAMCO) facility in the presence of a veterinarian. Inspection of the site revealed that the conditions were satisfactory. Vets were on duty, while the hygienic conditions were also satisfactory.

Officials told that the food from PAMCO facility is safe for human consumption as any sick animal is rejected after it is declared unfit by the doctor. The premises have an elaborate system of disposing off offal and effluents so as to keep bacteria away. The animals are slaughtered in the morning as well as in the evening while the premises are washed twice a day. There are cold stores to process the meat.

The only problem worrying the officials is that they are not getting enough animals as they had anticipated. While the facility has capacity of slaughtering up to 1000 animals per day, as per the growing demand, it is receiving only 80 to 100 animals per day. The official said that this was because of the illegal abattoirs which are still operating across the city.

When the PAMCO opened this modern facility at Shahpur Kanjran, it shut down its old slaughter house at Kot Kamboh but nothing was done to close down private slaughter houses spread across the area. The extent of the butchers’ mafia can be gauged from the fact that they have set up stalls right outside the PAMCO gates luring the customers and fooling them that the conditions inside the abattoir are unclean and will affect the meat.

According to City District Government officials, around 5000 ‘barra janwar’ (beef), while about 12,000 ‘chota janwar’ (mutton) is slaughtered on a daily basis. Total slaughtering of beef adds up to around 10,00,000 kg of beef consumed in Lahore. As the survey discovered a large part of this supply comes from private abattoirs where virtually no safety conditions are practiced, the risk to health of the people is pretty obvious.

There are two other slaughter houses in Lahore. One of them is run by the Army. While it is well kept and the animals are examined by the vet, it is meant only for the army and does not supply meat to the civil sector. The other one, in Sadar, is run by the Cantonment Board and supplies meat to the civil sector. Inspection of the site revealed that neither any vet was present nor hygiene was maintained. At the time of the inspection, butchers were seen slitting open animals on the floor right next to a huge mound of cattle dung. The very floor on which the butchers were cutting off the limbs had small puddles of blood. It seemed that the place had never been washed. The carcass was then dragged through a pile of offal and blood to be thrown in a corner that was full of maggots and flies feasting on blood and dung. The surrounding area reeked of stench. Daily, 35 to 50 animals (Chota and Barra) are slaughtered here. No official of the Cantonment Board was present there. The site was run by a Thekedar (contractor) - a butcher himself - along with a few helpers.

The Thekedar was apprehensive of the PAMCO facility, though he had no reason on which to base his apprehension. The only reason he could come up with was that the PAMCO facility had put the livelihood of private butchers into jeopardy.

Interviews of butchers from around the city revealed that they had to bring animals from city suburbs. They find it difficult to arrange for transport to be able to commute to the PAMCO collection point at Kot Kamboh. There is transportation cost as well as feeding the animal which drains the pockets of the dealers, they complained. However, this seems just an excuse since PAMCO has set up an animal collection centre at Kot Kamboh where subsidised transport facility is able to facilitate the butchers.

DCO Lahore Capt (Retd) Muhammad Usman assures The Nation that he will soon launch an operation against illegal slaughterhouses across Lahore. He expresses his commitment that such butchers will be thrown behind bars while the places will be sealed.

A source in the City District government tells The Nation that there are about 300 such illegal slaughter houses across Lahore. However, on the conditions of anonymity, he reveals that even if action is taken, it will change nothing because the butchers will continue to operate from other locations. Planning Punjab Livestock and Dairy Department Deputy Secretary Khalid Chaudhry says that it is impossible for anyone to act in an unlawful way without counting on inside support from within the City District Government.

He tells that the illegal slaughtering has gone on such a huge scale that it is very difficult to control it. He adds that the City District Government can wipe out the menace but only if it cracks down on it with an iron hand.

Agreeing that PAMCO facility is strict in carrying out medical examination of animals, he says that while the facility is the ideal place for slaughtering animals, the butchers are afraid to take their animals over fears that the vet might declare them unfit for consumption.

He says that the major reason why the illegal slaughtering is still going on is because the butchers are very influential and have governmental contacts within the city district government.