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August 4, 2020

People’s plans for online animal sacrifice prove disastrous

Karachi

August 4, 2020

Owing to all the marketing hype, the people of Karachi had high hopes from all the online services offering to deliver meat of sacrificial animals to their doorstep on Eidul Azha. But most of these companies that sprang up during the COVID-19 lockdown killed all such hopes as they failed miserably due to, reportedly, overbooking and inexperience.

Thousands of citizens across the city who suffered at the hands of these online services raised a hue and cry on social media, for these companies had seemingly overlooked people’s religious sentiments.

Deliveries of sacrificial animals’ meat were delayed in some cases, but in other cases the orders weren’t even delivered, nor was the money refunded. Several customers complained of receiving foul-smelling and rotting meat, which had to be thrown away.

Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani had earlier asked the people to book their sacrifice orders online. He had also directed several philanthropic organisations to make arrangements for such bookings.

Talking to The News on Monday, he made the assurance that he will take action against the companies that had failed to deliver their orders or bungled them. He asked the people to file their complaints to his office or share their order receipts with them on Twitter.

Bad deliveries

Rizwan’s family had booked seven goats and five shares in a cow at Laal Meat for over Rs100,000. At 6:30pm on the third day of Eid (Monday), he told The News that he had not received his order yet.

“It was to be delivered by 3pm on Eid’s first day [Saturday],” he said, adding that he was told that the vehicle in which the meat was being delivered had broken down and he’d received it a little late.

“Later I was told that the delivery will take place in the first half of Eid’s second day [Sunday],” he said, adding that since then there had been no communication at all. It was only due to COVID-19 that he had chosen the online service and avoided going to a cattle market.

Hasan, another customer of the same online service, had placed his order on July 30 on WhatsApp for a share in cow. He had transferred Rs17,500 online and was provided with a receipt.

“The meat was delivered a few hours later than the expected time in a cardboard box covered in a plastic bag,” he said, adding that when he opened it, the meat was not only emitting a foul smell, but was rotten.

“I had to throw away more than half of the meat,” he said, adding that he couldn’t even give any meat to the poor because it wasn’t consumable. “It was sacrificial meat, not a joke.” Another company, Meat Master, had also bungled several of their deliveries. Adeel had placed his order for Rs28,500 for a goat to be delivered on Eid’s first day between 12pm and 4pm. In the wee hours of Sunday, he received an apology from the company over the phone and was promised of delivery in the first half of the second day.

After much delay, he received his order at 5pm. After unboxing the order, his family was surprised to see huge pieces of meat.

“The left side of the goat wasn’t even cut into two,” he said, adding that they had to find a butcher and pay extra money to get the meat chopped.

Saadia Mehmood was supposed to get her orders for three sacrificial goats on Eid’s first day. “We waited until 6:30pm on the first day, and then started contacting Meat Master,” she said, adding that no one from the service responded.

At 12:15am there was a communication from the company in which they apologised for the delay and promised early delivery on the second day. When she didn’t get the meat until 2:30pm on the second day, she contacted them again and was asked to be patient.

The meat was delivered at around 6:30pm, she said, adding that the charges for the second-day delivery were less and demanded a refund of the differential amount.

Jamshaid, a customer of another such company, told The News he had booked three shares in cow to be delivered on Eid’s first day. At 1:30pm, according to him, the company apologised to him for not being able to deliver the order the same day.

On the second day, when he didn’t get the meat until 6pm, he searched for their Facebook page and found one of the groups created for the affected customers.

From that group, he traced the company’s cold storage truck standing on University Road, from where he managed to get his cow shares. “I had to dispose of some of the meat because it was rotten,” he said.

Customers of various companies besides the ones mentioned above have warned of holding protest demonstrations at the Karachi Press Club and file police complaints against these companies.

Who’s to blame?

Most of the companies apologised to their customers for the delay. Laal Meat’s 27-year-old owner Tabish Haider apologised to all his customers and promised a 50 per cent refund for those who hadn’t received their meat or those whose deliveries turned out to be rotten.

He explained to The News how he had over 600 orders for the first day and 300 plus for the second day, while the online service didn’t take any order for the third day because they didn’t have any slaughterhouse for that day.

Without naming the two courier services through which their orders were delivered, he said that one of the services had a packed container vehicle, in which all the meat had rotted. They stopped delivering the orders after getting numerous complaints and had a backlog of the first-day orders on the second day, when one of their courier services backed out.

Haider said he understands that people’s religious sentiments have been hurt and he apologises to all his customers. Since he owns a start-up, he said, he will be able to return 50 per cent of the amount after taking out a loan.

Meat Master had earlier blamed TCS for the failure of their operation but later in their Facebook post withdrew that allegation. In its open letter to customers on their Facebook page, Meat Master shared that due to some internal operational issues, they weren’t able to dispatch their deliveries on time and apologised for the delay. “However, we would like to assure you that the animal sacrifice was carried out on the day of your choice,” read the letter.

TCS communications head Khurram Qadeer told The News that they had partnered with Meat Master, Tata Food and Fauji Foods for the delivery of sacrificial meat during Eid, but the problem was only with Meat Master. “Our trucks were at their slaughterhouse from 8am to 10pm,” he said, adding that their production was slow.

“We ship millions of consignments on a daily basis. Why would a few thousand more be any problem for us?” he said, adding that they didn’t take any item for delivery after 7pm, but for Meat Master, due to the situation that had emerged, TCS carried out deliveries until 10pm.

In an official statement released to the media, Meat Master said they regretted the inconvenience caused to all their customers due to delays in the delivery of sacrificial meat during Eidul Azha.

“The delay was primarily caused by an unexpected accident at our Gadap plant on the first day of Eid that halted operations at the meat processing line indefinitely. Due to the unprecedented nature of the accident, we were unable to give a clear timeline to our customers regarding the delivery.”

They said that as their customers’ queries flooded in, they had to shift 30 per cent of their orders to the second day of Eid, so the time lag resulted in a massive backlog straining their delivery system.

“We have since ensured 100 per cent refund of orders that were cancelled, as well as compensation of the differential amount for those customers who received their orders on the second day but had booked for the first day.

“We had closed bookings three days prior to Eid and had no capacity issues at the plant. Following the accident, we had the option of shifting to manual processing, but due to COVID-19 SOPs and in order to adhere to the strict quality and hygiene standards promised to our customers, we had to wait for the automated line to start functioning again.”

They said they fully understand the significance of sacrifice and realise there is no way they can compensate for the emotional disturbance caused to their customers, but they hoped that the steps they have taken will ease their customers’ concerns, as they continue to remain the company’s top priority.

Overbooking

According to economist Muzamil Aslam, the main reason for the bungled orders is overbooking by these companies and start-ups. The animal prices, he told The News, vary on a daily basis, while these online services gave fixed prices to their customers, but when they went to purchase the animals, they couldn’t get them on their desired prices and had to wait for the prices to come down.

Most of the start-ups, he said, didn’t have experience of slaughtering and couldn’t butcher the animals on Eid day. “There were also issues in preservation and delivery,” he said. As for the refunds, he explained that a few companies did pay back due to their goodwill. He believes that the Sindh government should have come forward, as this is an issue of health and safety. The provincial government, he stressed, must check if these online services were licensed or authorised for such deliveries.