With the number of customers to his stall reducing to a trickle, Abdu Rahiman uses the time he was using to dress up meat to immerse himself in the daily newspaper.
A chicken stall owner at the Central Market in Kozhikode, which supplies chicken to bulk customers, his lean phase started long before the recent decision by hotel owners to stop the selling of chicken varieties.
Over the past few years, there has been a noticeably gradual reduction in sales owing to reasons more than just the price, which almost doubled in this period.
“The main markets in each town were the only place to buy chicken till a few years ago. But, with the arrival of neighbourhood chicken stalls, people have stopped coming all the way to the market. No one wants to endure the stench that is the trademark of the traditional chicken markets,” says Abdu Rahiman.
The reduction in the weight of stocks, which are not sold off is one contributor to the losses.
“For every container of 20-25 chickens that is not sold off, there is a weight reduction of around 10 kg daily, which cuts into our profits,” says Nayeem, who runs a chicken stall.
Most of the chicken being sold here is brought from Namakkal and Erode. The middlemen at both ends add to the costs and are blamed by some traders for the current situation. They say that there is not a single facility in the State, which can meet even half the demand for chicken here.
Adding to the increased costs in the form of commission to agents is the State government’s tax of 13.5 per cent on chicken brought from outside. Kerala is the only state to have such a tax.
“The agents sometimes create an artificial scarcity to blow up the prices. This, combined with the government’s tax, gets passed on to the consumer. These two elements contribute at least Rs.25 to the final price of the chicken in the market,” says S. Nishad, a worker at a chicken stall.
Another addition to the cost is in the form of payment to the City Corporation to clear the chicken waste. The traders need to pay Rs.4 per kilogram of waste.
Contributing to the price issues is the shortage of butchers to work in these shops.
“Like in other fields where manual labour is required, the Keralites’ obsession with white collar jobs has affected us too. A butcher gets paid around Rs.500 daily, which is a decent amount comparable to that of a government employee’s. But jobless youngsters are reluctant to take this up and instead flock to fill up the salesman’s post in retail shops where they are not even paid half of this.
The way the society views us is also to blame for this situation. No girl is ready to marry a butcher. The migrant workers have made inroads here too, with one of the shops employing two youth from Northeast recently,” says Najaf, a butcher in one of the shops here.
Najaf gives a parting shot, recommending a book on vegetarianism titled ‘ Manushyane thinnunna kozhi ’ (The chicken which eats humans).
He says that the book is worth a read and the ideas worth practising, at a time when the cost of every ingredient included in the chicken curry has sky rocketed.