Regardless of the raging controversy over beef and the BJP adopting it as a major political issue, the Narendra Modi government quietly eased restrictions on the export of buffalo tallow, according to official documents accessed by The Hindu . Tallow export has since been booming month on month.
First formal decision According to sources, this is the first formal decision by the Central government on buffalo tallow trade since the country was shaken by a controversy over the alleged adulteration of vanaspati (vegetable cooking oil) with beef tallow 32 years ago. States such as Maharashtra and Haryana have in the intervening period passed legislation banning slaughter and trade of cow, bull and ox.
The decision to permit export has already resulted in about 40 per cent increase in the price of buffalo tallow in just the last few months and feeds into what Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the ‘Pink Revolution’ during the polls, when he condemned the boom in meat exports from the country.
A detailed questionnaire sent to Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry (Independent charge), about the decision and reasons for it remains unanswered. The Hindu mailed her the questionnaire on November 13 and sent reminders to the Minister and senior officials repeatedly. Despite a personal assurance from her, no response came.
The government decision, taken on December 31, 2014, was notified by the Director-General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) through order number 104 (RE-2013)/2009-2014.
Unrest in the past
The decision comes 32 years after the country witnessed widespread unrest over alleged adulteration of vanaspati with beef tallow. The agitation was led by the former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the former Home Minister, L.K. Advani, and other Opposition leaders, who turned it into a political issue against the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Without wasting much time, the Indira Gandhi government imposed a ban on import of tallow, ordered a CBI investigation and carried out nationwide arrests.
In 1983, India was not a major meat processing country and was dependent on imported tallow for its use in industries such as soap and candle, and to some extent, cosmetics. Today, India is the largest meat exporter in the world and thus a surplus producer of tallow, the hard fat obtained from buffaloes, cows and sheep.
One senior official involved in the process of allowing buffalo tallow export told The Hindu: “It was done on the basis of the recommendation of the line ministry, which in this case was the Commerce Ministry. It seemed like a routine matter, otherwise it would have involved several rounds of inter-ministerial consultations, in which among others the DGFT [the Directorate-General of Foreign Trade] would have been asked to give inputs.”
The official said the Export Promotion (Agri) Division of the Commerce Ministry communicated the decision, on which the order was issued. The notification subject read: “Permission for export of buffalo tallow.” It said the notification was being issued under powers conferred by Section 5 of the Foreign Trade (Development & Regulation Act), 1992, and its various amendments. “The Central government, with immediate effect, hereby amends the entry at Sl. No 91 & inserts a new entry at Sl. No. 91 A in Chapter 15 of Schedule 2 of ITC (HS) classification of export & import items,” the notification said. ITC (HS) stands for Indian Trade Clarification based on Harmonized System of Coding.
In 91 A, the government introduced “Buffalo Tallow”, and allotted it the tariff item HS (harmonized system) code 15021090. Under export policy instead of classification as prohibited, “free” was marked.
“Export permitted only from APEDA registered integrated meat plants having rendering facilities subject to compulsory pre-shipment bio-chemical test by laboratories approved by APEDA,” the order said.
The order was signed by the then Director-General of Foreign Trade, Pravir Kumar. An IAS officer of the 1982 batch, Mr. Kumar was posted out as DGFT in August to the Ministry of Home Affairs, where he was secretary in the Inter State Council Secretariat. But within a month of that transfer, he was abruptly repatriated to his home cadre, Uttar Pradesh. When contacted, Mr. Kumar refused to discuss the issue.
According to the Department of Commerce’s export-import data bank, in the three months since the lifting of the ban a total of Rs. 29.85 lakh worth of tallow, weighing 74,000 kg. was exported. In the five months since then, between April and August this year, the amount grew over 36 times in value to Rs. 10.95 crore. In the April-August period, a total of 2.7 million kg. was exported.
Foreign trade in beef tallow, then limited to import alone because India was not a major meat processing country, was stopped by the Indira Gandhi government in 1983, when public protests shook the streets after stray incidents of vanaspati oil being adulterated with beef tallow came to light.
Speaking in Parliament in 1983 amid the scandal, Mr. Advani said: “The issue at stake is not the import of beef tallow but its adulteration with vegetable oils and its misuse for profiteering. We suspect that corruption is the main reason for it, and only a thorough probe can prove whether it was done due to political or administrative corruption.”
Protests were staged around the country, and at the rally in New Delhi, over 40,000 spilled out on to Rajpath, according to media reports from the period.
The CBI arrested several businessmen and carried out raids across India, after probing some 300 complaints of adulteration of vanaspati using beef tallow. Since then, India has had no formal foreign trade in buffalo tallow, until December 31, 2014.