Mutton becomes bone of contention in Kashmir

Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011, 13:14 PM IST

Srinagar: Imagine a traditional `wazwan` feast without mutton! But many Kashmiris are indeed going without their favourite non-vegetarian dishes for the past month as they return empty-handed from mutton shops.

Wholesale and retail traders are refusing to sell it in Srinagar and other parts of the valley citing value added tax (VAT) on mutton imported from outside. But in reality there is no such VAT on the product anywhere in Jammu and Kashmir.

"We cannot afford to sell mutton at the existing rates because the state government has started charging us VAT from April 1 this year," said Abdul Rashid, a mutton seller in north Kashmir`s Ganderbal district.

For a month now, mutton - which is mostly imported into the valley from other states - has vanished from the markets.

In fact even many state government officials don`t seem to know that there is no VAT on mutton.

During various meetings with mutton dealers, they have been heard saying that discussions are on with dealers "to break the impasse that has arisen because of the imposition of VAT on the sale of mutton".

Khwaja Bashir Ahmad, who retired as the state`s commissioner of the commercial taxes department last month, is one of those who know better.

"No VAT is charged at all anywhere on the sale of mutton in the state. It was not charged in the past and is not being charged now," he said.

Ahmad wonders why the authorities are not clearing the air and straightening out the matter. He says what has actually increased is the toll on mutton imported into the valley.

"No VAT is charged on mutton sale. A toll tax of Rs.35 per animal was being charged on the import of sheep/goats into the state till March 31 and now Rs.2.5 is being charged per kilogram live weight of the animal imported," he said.

"In layman`s terms, it means if we presume the average weight of a sheep/goat to be around 30 kg, then the trader has to pay Rs.75 per animal. The net increase in toll tax is Rs.40.

"This justifies a per kilogram increase of Re.1 or Rs.2 at the retailer`s end," the retired official argued.

As per the rate list circulated by the local authorities, the retail price of mutton is fixed at Rs.230 per kg.

"The traders want an outright increase of Rs.30-40 per kg and that is not justified at all," said Nazir Ahmad Mir, a resident of old city here.

Many locals even argue that there is no justification for mutton being treated as an essential commodity in Jammu and Kashmir.

"Whatever the rationale, mutton eating is a luxury not all locals can afford. Let it be dropped from the list of essential commodities and then let demand and supply be allowed to fix the rates of mutton in the valley," argued Muhammad Ismail, 45, who teaches economics in a local college here.

Officials maintain mutton cannot be dropped from the list of essential commodities as doctors prescribe mutton and chicken soup for patients.

"Kashmiris eat mutton almost regularly. It is extensively used in the preparation of local marriage feasts called `wazwan` and during other celebrations here," said an official of the provincial administration.

"Besides, it is prescribed by doctors for patients."

Bashir Ahmad War, a retired veterinarian here, rued that the valley with its world renowned meadows and pastures, still continues to import mutton from states like Rajasthan, which is a desert state.

He also said, "Till the authorities are able to convince the traders that we can live without mutton and live more healthily, the traders would continue to raise prices on one pretext or the other."