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Modi’s Cattle Export Ban Benefits Bangladesh, China


It may sound ironic, but Bangladesh and China have profited substantially from the NDA Government’s cattle export ban introduced in mid 2014.

This comes as no surprise to the growing tribe of critics of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Says a Kolkata-based analyst, “A major problem with some mega initiatives launched by the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is that their long term consequences remained under-analysed. Today in 2021, there can be no denying that because of banning cattle export, especially to Bangladesh, Government of India is facing a slew of totally unintended consequences it had never anticipated. This does not say much for the perspicacity of our homegrown enthusiastic backers of the ban-cattle-export slogan, no matter how powerful.”

On the credit side, there has occurred a sharp drop in the number of cows and buffaloes illegally smuggled to Bangladesh over the last few years, as the following stats will show. Official estimates put the number of animals saved at 476,000 over the last five years.

The trend of cattle seizures by the Border Security Force(BSF) over the years confirms this — in 2016, 168801 animals were seized, which dropped to only around 45,000 up to July, 2020. So far so good.

As the ban took effect initially, there was much jubilation in India’s mainstream media. Gleeful accounts reporting that the price of beef in Bangladesh had gone up sharply, pinching local pockets, were common. It showed the might of India at work — so ran the gloating, if unspoken, message in the sub-text.

Now the medium term consequences are coming home to roost.

The first is the major hit, a body blow, delivered to India’s otherwise flourishing leather industry. India was among the bigger players internationally with a sizable share of the world export trade, both in footwear and assorted goods and items. It accounted for 10 per cent of world production, engaging 25,00,000 workers at home, with estimated assets of $13 billion.

In 2013-14 India’s leather exports recorded an 18 per cent growth, which fell to 9 per cent a year later. Exports in 2015-16 of mainly footwear to the US, EU countries, Hong Kong and China touched $6 billion, which declined to $5.6 billion a year on. There was a 19 per cent drop in exports during 2016-16, according to trade sources.

Not only are the exports going south, but the country that has walked away with what could have been India’s share is none other than China. Surely this cannot bring much joy to the Indian establishment.

Chinese exports rose by 3 per cent by 2016-17 and have been growing further, according to reports. Thus, the Government of India has ended up making China richer and economically stronger.

Secondly, it is not just China alone that has been helped by policies initiated by Delhi. India has involuntarily helped Bangladesh achieve a remarkable self-sufficiency in shoring up its livestock development sector. Bangladesh media regularly carries glowing accounts of how cattle production has increased by leaps and bounds. For the first time in decades, Bangladesh can meet its annual beef/buffalo meat intake demand on its own. There is no need to import cattle from India any longer.

With the purchasing power of people increasing steadily over the years, Bangladeshis are consuming more home grown milk and milk products, some of which were earlier imported. Some recent reports said that the country’s annual demand for meat was around 11 million metric tonnes. As against this, the number of cows and buffaloes now exceeds 1.15 crore for the first time. The key to this was the rapid establishment of nearly 600,000 livestock farms, provided with all help and facilities.

There are press reports of how marginal farmers, owning only 1 acre of land or less, raising rice, jute or veggies, had purchased young calves which they reared for a few years before selling them at around TK 70,000 each. Such sales are commonplace especially ahead of the annual Eid festivities.

Thus, Bangladesh has considerably strengthened its live stock development programme and acquired self-sufficiency. It is currently considering exports of milk and related items abroad.

In media headlines, Bangladesh papers have tongue-in-cheek thanked India for its decision to ban cattle export, although initially there were bellyaching laments over beef becoming costlier. A spokesman of the Bangladesh Livestock department was recently quoted as saying that India’s ban had come as a major challenge for its neighbour.

One question arises inevitably: how could India’s mighty policymakers, who have promised to the country a $5 trillion economy soon, fail to anticipate the likely long term outcome of their ban-cattle-export decision?

There is no denying that both on humanitarian and economic grounds, it makes much sense to protect wherever necessary India’s own livestock base and strengthen it further. This argument has been heard regularly from the ban backers. Unfortunately the facts on the ground in India do not inspire confidence in their rhetoric.

It is by no means certain that the Indians really care for the cow in a special way. If they did, they would have handled the problem of the continuing abandonment of aging cattle more humanely. When it comes to taking special care of the cow – buffaloes invariably go ignored for some reason – the emotional rhetoric hardly matches any organised initiative to improve the living conditions and diet of the animals.

As soon as the animals stop giving milk, the butchers’ knives are out. Cow owners are in a desperate hurry to get rid of their animals. At worst, they are sold in secret to slaughterhouses where killing old cows is carried on illegally or otherwise. At best, the animals are simply turned loose, on the roads and fields, where they create much havoc until kind hearted do-gooders feed them for some time through sporadic individual or concerned efforts.

The sight of abandoned cows being shooed away by lathi-wielding men from urban markets or farms is all too common. Mostly the animals are reduced to scouring the litter/garbage heaps for grains.

The government should have a policy: should these animals be used in some other ways, if they were to be kept alive? As some experts suggest, their dung and urine, not to mention their hides and bones after death, could be of some use as fertilisers, in chemical experiments/research, soil conservation, etc.

The message is clear: the problem cannot be solved whimsically by putting up a few ‘Gaushalas’ in a few states — not when random estimates put the figure of such deserted animals at nearly 4.5 million in India. Without a specific guideline, it is not enough to launch dramatic schemes that impact lives and livelihood of people at short notice, apparently more to make a political point than anything else.

It would surely serve the NDA better if its leaders even occasionally followed conventional wisdom and looked before leaping collectively. That would help, not hinder, their prospects.

(IPA Service)

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