The Endless Blood
I will go over all three major causes for India-Bangladesh border killings. I have summed up a few facts and possible directions.
Cattle trade has become the major root cause behind the regular border killings at India-Bangladesh border. In my first part, I will cover major causes of this illegal trade, possible way forward and some facts around it.
1. India has the world’s largest cattle herd but hardly consumes any beef. Only two of the large Indian states allow cow-slaughter – Kerala and West Bengal.
2. Bangladesh cattle herd is stagnant over decades but people do consume beef.
3. These two factors make a natural direction of cattle flow from India to Bangladesh.
4. Approximately 1.5 million cows cross border every year. (Of course this statistics can not be verified.)
Given all these factors, it will be difficult to stop the trans-border cattle trade through an otherwise porous border. But there are a couple of scenarios which could put a break in illegal business.
First one, the cattle trade to be made legal and let market forces to guide it. This will mark the end of illegal cattle trade across the border. It will also allow cattle-owners to get fair price out of their cattle. The availability and business along with new investments in the cattle sector of India will be up. BSF, the major accused border guards of India, is a strong supporter of this.
However, this will face challenges, especially in India.
First, it will be a massive religious hurdle to cross. Predominantly Hindu India worships cow as a god and it will be politically challenging to implement this proposition. On the other hand, the fact that India exports cattle to Pakistan now-a-days, shows this religious forces are not as strong as people think of.
Second, it may hurt Indian beef and leather exports and will face anticipatory lobbying against this decision from those two sectors. It will be vehemently opposed by West Bengal, which sources 55% of Indian leather exports and 30% of Beef exports. Export of cattle will eventually mean export of leather and beef. If an excess of cattle crosses the border, then both of these industries will have to compete harder to ensure their supply of raw materials.
Now let me move to the next scenario. This would be a good one for India and the data indicate India is trying to move towards this. However, it would be a difficult-to-cope scenario for Bangladesh.
Under this situation, India becomes a large beef and leather exporter and the cattle doesn’t cross the borders at all. Instead they end up in large processing houses in West Bengal and be exported thereon as beef and leather. Since the cattle owner gets more from a standard licensed beef trader than an illegal cross border cattle trader, the majority of cattle doesn’t reach the borders. Along with this, enforcement at different levels should help divert the flow of cattle. Following is the beef export chart of India for last few years –
India is currently the fourth largest beef-exporter, ahead of the USA. But given the low consumption and huge cattle fleet, in no time they can become the top beef exporter. The dual utilization of cattle will also ease the pressure of price for the leather industry which exports $5bn a year. On the other hand, Bangladesh would have to import beef at a higher price as they have to compete with global prices (or prices in the Middle East – the major export destination of Indian beef). The leather industry, the second highest foreign currency earning sector of Bangladesh, would suffer from price pressure.
Given these two scenarios, it would be better for both Bangladesh and India to agree on a time-limited export quota of cattle, as India is exporting to Pakistan a maximum of 1 million per year from 2005. Meanwhile, Bangladesh should work on their domestic cattle and do the same that Pakistan did. It’s not that difficult in these days to multiply cattle and replace Indian supply with their domestic one. The border population can themselves be engaged in raising cattle. Self-sufficiency has no alternatives and that will lead to best possible result.
1. Indian Planning Commission has already suggested to remove all barriers against beef-export (but not cattle export) in the next five-year plan. Indian right-wing Hindu organizations are already protesting it, but I will be surprised if protests gather steam. source : News
2. Indian beef exports to continue growing and India will become the third highest beef-exporter by 2012. It also notes that South-East Asia, North Africa and Middle-East are main destinations of Indian beef. source – News
3. I got hold of 11th Planning Commission report. It states –
“Since slaughter is a state subject, the actual processing of meat for exports as well as for domestic demand follow the laws of the individual states, which are at variance with each other. The country needs to have consistent and uniform slaughter policy across different states to make the industry competitive.”
It looks like India is going to become a large beef-exporter sooner that I thought of.
India is on course to become largest exporter of beef in 2012. The amount expected to be exported is 1.5 million tonnes, against 500,000 tonnes shown in the graph (year 2008). The addition comes through the export of buffalo-meat.
Further readings/sources –
4. All chart data are from FAO database.