Cow protection is an ambitious project of the NDA but it is incomplete; the Government needs to do much more
The cow has always been an integral part of the Indian agrarian household. With a suffix, "mata," the cow in the Hindu way of life is sacrosanct and a cow shelter in the vicinity of a farmer's house elevates his status in the society. However, with growing population and urbanisation, fewer houses are able to provide a cow shelter even in rural India. As an alternative, there is a prevalent culture of running community cow shelters or gaushalas mainly on panchayat lands. After the BJP came to power, there is a welcome growth of such gaushalas all over India particularly in the North and West of the country. The reasons are two-fold. One, a comprehensive beef ban imposed in early 2015 by the Governments of Haryana and Maharashtra; Two, an aggressive drive to prevent cattle smuggling or gautaskari to other countries across international borders.
A reality check on the status of gaushalas in the States of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, however, reveals a sad story of neglect. Almost all the gaushalas are privately managed by volunteers and funded in the main by religious trusts which are dependent on donations. Government support, either financial or ion terms of infrastructure, is minimal. The ambitious project of cow protection started by the NDA Government has not been handled effectively on the ground. Many loose ends need to be tied before it is too late or else its adversaries will have the last laugh and succeed in their campaign to blame the BJP for indulging in "cow protection politics" as a ploy to extend the BJP's electoral base.
There are 400 to 450 gaushalas in Haryana and almost an equal number in UP. And there are five cow shelters in and around Delhi. Ever since 2015 when State Governments enacted the Cow Protection Act strictly banning cow slaughter and smuggling, the gaushalas are getting over-crowded. People who previously would get rid of their unproductive cattle by selling them to slaughter houses are now abandoning them on the streets. In the Capital, the three municipal corporations have been instructed to pick up these stray cows and send them to shelters but that is not happening and the problem is getting worse by the day causing danger to the cows and urban chaos. The story is not different in Delhi's neighbouring States.
According to a news report, 500 stray cows died in lucknow animal shelter Kanhaupavan in the April-September period this year. Officials claim that most of these deaths were because the animals were either too old or sick, or accident victims. In Haryana, officials complain that their shelters house three times their capacity which is causing immense problems for them and acute discomfort to the cows.Besides shortage of space, the other major issue is the non-affordability of adequate fodder for cattle. In any shelter, the average number of cows that are milk-yielding is not more than six to seven percent of the total cow population housed. Milk thus procured is consumed by the cow shelter staff itself and is an unviable option for revenue generation. Fodder, both green and dry, is available only for four to six months from fields; for the rest of the year it has to be purchased from the market. Surveys have shown that the cost of fodder (both types) is Rs 200 per day. The Government does give some grants to some shelters but it is entirely insufficient. The main source of income for these shelters comes from private parties and donations.
It is not only fodder for which monies are required. A large sum is also required for veterinary doctors and medicines. When an epidemic breaks out, lot of preventive care has to be provided for which supportive staff too is required. Maintaining staff, the shelter and other infrastructure requires money and gaushalas are perennially short of funds. The management of these cow shelters keeps running from pillar to post asking for monetary help, but the political class continues to look the other way. Unfortunately, lack of funds and over-crowding are resulting in a number of casualties. Death from hunger and disease is a common phenomenon.
A rough estimate of monies required for one shelter housing 100 cows comes to Rs 75 lakh a year, which includes fodder, medicine, diesel cost, equipment, manpower, etc. The Government does not have any budgetary allocation under this head. Though there is one Government-run monies, Kamdhenu Gaushala at Kartarpuri village in the district of Gurugram, Haryana, but it claims helplessness in admitting all cows sent there because of space-funds limitations.
When the BJP-led NDA Government issued a notification for a complete ban on cow slaughter, three Opposition-ruled States — Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal — where buffalo meat or beef is consumed by a section of the population started protests in a big way. All the North-Eastern States, excluding Tripura, are also host to a significant beef-eating population. Thus, a comprehensive law for whole country for on beef ban is always susceptible to political opposition; also, in the absence of such a national law, the discrepancies between various state laws often results in interstate cattle smuggling and the creation of a cow smuggling mafia. On the other hand, anti-social elements and miscreants - called out as such by the Prime Minister himself — masquerading as monies have a field day indulging in vigilantism. There are instances where Muslim citizens have been subjected to unnecessary torture on mere suspicion of eating beef. In fact, the Khattar administration in Haryana drew a lot of flak for allegedly showing leniency towards cow vigilantism.
These episodes, however, ought to strengthen rather than weaken the resolve of the Government to make "Gau Sanrakshan" a true mission. And for that it needs to allocate funds and start monitoring the implementation of measures on the ground very closely.
(The writer is a freelance commentator.)