Carcass Crisis: Kolkata Outraged
Kolkata's carcass meat trade has a historical link that has long been averted. With the crisis now at its peak, establishments of the city are witnessing a debilitating backlash as residents are in complete disarray, writes Pritesh Basu.
It was the well-known 'demand and supply' theory of economics that had created a safe passage for the trade of supplying carcass meat to eateries. The increase in the demand for chicken and meat with the mushrooming of eateries across Kolkata had paved the way for the flourishing 'carcass meat industry' that now stands with a turnover of more than a few crores every month.
In the late-1980s and mid-1990s, the City of Joy had witnessed the proliferation of fast food stalls with a growing influx of people arriving in the city in search of work. Within a very short period of time, Kolkatans and residents in adjoining districts had fallen in love with the mouthwatering delicacies readily available in the city's stalls. But, hardly anyone doubted that carcass meat was being cooked and served in beautifully decorated platters in a section of these eateries.
However, the people of Bengal then hadn't experienced today's mortifying days, when residents are in a dilemma over consuming meat at eateries. The matter would have been contained if the erstwhile Left Front government had initiated appropriate steps in checking the sale of dead chicken, when it was brought to light for the first time by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) authorities sometime between 2000 and 2005 – when Subrata Mukherjee was Mayor and Javed Khan was Member Mayor-in-Council (Health). The civic authorities had also undertaken a massive drive against the use of dead chicken in eateries, while ensuring that proper hygiene is maintained in the kitchens of hotels, restaurants and clubs.
"The menace of selling carcass meat to eateries was caught at its very initial stage and the matter would have been brought under control if the erstwhile Left Front government had taken the right steps at the right time. But, nothing much was done apart from the few steps taken by the KMC," said a senior KMC official who chooses to remain anonymous. Suggestions were forwarded to maintain a statewide monitoring on what the businessmen did with the chicken that die in the process of transportation. Citing an example, the official said that the worst part is that the chicken is brought to the city from the farms of rural Bengal. Thus, it was necessary to be more vigilant in Kolkata. "But, the lackadaisical attitude of the erstwhile Left Front government allowed the growth of this unscrupulous business of selling carcass meat and it is unfortunate that from dead chicken we now have the meat of any dead animal being supplied for our consumption," the official said.
Recently, the matter once again came to light on April 19, when two youths were caught by locals, chopping off meat from dead animals in a dump yard at Budge Budge in South 24-Parganas. It resulted in statewide raids across eateries and cold storages that led to a series of arrests. Again, a former CPI(M) councillor of Gayeshpur Municipality in Nadia, was also arrested for his alleged involvement in the racket of supplying carcass meat.
Investigation has revealed that initially only the skin of dead animals was removed and supplied to the leather industry. It may be mentioned that slaughterhouses in the city form the source of around only 10 to 20 per cent of the skin of dead animals required for the leather industry. So, the industry is primarily dependent on the collection of skin of dead animals thrown in dump yards to meet the remaining 80 to 85 per cent of its requirement. Later, those who were involved in removing the skin from dead animals discovered that the meat of carcass can be used as food for fishes where pisciculture is undertaken. This paved the way for chopping the meat off dead animals discarded in dumping grounds. Use of carcass meat to feed fishes attracted the attention of a section of 'unscrupulous traders', who were engaged in the business of supplying fish, chicken and meat to eateries. Initially, a small quantity of carcass meat was processed using chemicals and mixed with pieces of a sufficient quantity of fresh meat and supplied at eateries without the knowledge of its owners.
After becoming successful in their first attempt of mixing the properly processed carcass meat with the fresh ones, the 'business' started picking up pace and, at present, as investigation has revealed, the minimum turnover has been recorded at Rs 54 lakh per day. According to experts, setting up of more and more eateries, with a section barely paying attention to the quality of food served, led to the increase in demand for carcass meat. Gradually, more people were involved in the racket with 'linkmen' spread across the city and its surroundings to restrict any shortfall in the supply of carcass meat.
Information was passed within a few minutes after a dead animal was thrown in a dump yard and the process begun without wasting any time. The skin of the dead animal is sold to the leather industry and the meat is transported to 'select cold storages or ice factories', in and around the city, for processing and preservation. One such ice factory is at Rajabazar, from where 100 kg carcass meat has been seized.
It is from such places that the processed meat of dead animals is supplied to different parts of the state and even in departmental stores. Investigating agencies have sent samples of the seized meat to forensic science laboratories. But, according to the experts, processing carcass meat is not possible without treating it with formalin after carving out the fatty organs. The experts have not ruled out the possibility of unregulated use of chemicals like aluminium sulphate, aluminium phosphate, calcium propionate and even sodium aluminium phosphate that turns the meat every bit dangerous for human consumption. Unlike the erstwhile Left Front government, the present government has undertaken all necessary measures to completely uproot this menace.
In March 2018, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had raised her concern over the supply of dead chicken from Baduria in North 24-Parganas to the markets of Kolkata. She had inquired about the matter from the concerned officials and also directed the KMC authorities to send samples of chicken supplied from Baduria for necessary tests. Again, in connection with the Budge Budge incident, a Special Investigation Team comprising police officers from South 24-Parganas have already arrested the kingpin Biswanath Ghorui alias Mangsho Bishu on May 3. His close aides were also arrested.
At the same time, the Bidhannagar Police is on the lookout for the owner of the chicken farm, from where fungal-infected carcass meat was found stored in freezers. Investigation had revealed that those were meant for supply to eateries.
When the police raided the suspected places, almost all civic bodies in the state visited the eateries in their respective areas to ensure that no rotten meat is prepared and served to the people.
The KMC authorities left no stone unturned in ensuring a check upon the use of meat of dead animals, with Atin Ghosh, Member Mayor-in-Council (Health), leading the team visiting the eateries. Samples of meat are collected and sent to the state forensic science laboratory for conducting necessary tests. He even visited the zoological garden to check what happens to the leftover meat which is given to the animals for consumption.
Bhaskar Bhattacharya, MMIC Health of Howrah Municipal Corporation, has also said that continuous monitoring will be carried out to ensure that the people are not served stale meat or the meat of dead animals. In the past three weeks, carcass meat has been the most discussed topic across the state, especially after it became viral on social media. It deeply impacted the sale of chicken and meat delicacies in hotels and restaurants as the 'unscrupulous traders' played with the faith of food-loving Kolkatans.
According to Atikram Gupta, Assistant Secretary-General of Hotel and Restaurant Association of Eastern India, there is a drop of around 30 to 40 per cent in the sale of chicken and meat preparations. A large section of people are now preferring fishes and prawn. "However, we are trying to regain the faith of the food-lovers once again and we have advised the restaurants and hotel owners to undertake a polymerised chain reaction test of chicken or meat on a random basis before preparation. It is like a DNA test and that will dissect the contents of the meat that is being supplied," he said, adding that, at the same time, they have urged the eateries enlisted with their association to avoid using frozen meat.
Now, the association has advised the eateries to procure meat only from the suppliers having ISO 9001 or ISO 22000 certification. But, only time will tell whether such steps will be successful in reinstating the faith of food-loving Kolkatans.