How despite focusing entirely on the holy cow and diverting hundreds of crores of rupees in the tax payer’s money, including an absurd cow protection cess, towards protecting stray cows, the BJP government of Uttar Pradesh has miserably failed to tackle the problem of stray cattle
Our Correspondent | Caravan Daily
ALIGARH/NEW DELHI – The January 10 deadline was set by the Yogi government in Uttar Pradesh to herd all stray cattle in the state into the shelter homes run by the government, village panchayats and individually by private
This despite all the government machinery – including police officials, District Magistrate staff, school teachers and even veterinarians being pressed into service to run after stray cows. To top it all, the state government has imposed a 0.5% “cow protection cess” on the people of the state to build shelter homes for cows and their upkeep.
Caravan Daily checked the outcome of the government drive in some of the districts that have recently reported the menace of stray cows damaging crops and properties.
In Bareilly, a very densely populated district that witnesses problems caused by stray cattle on a daily basis, the government drive met with spontaneous protests by locals. In Delapeer police station area, people forcibly freed 20 cows caught by the district police. District Magistrate Virendra K Singh, when asked, refused to give the number of stray cattle herded to cow shelters but admitted that some of the captured cows had been freed by locals and that the culprits will soon be brought to book.
In Varanasi, the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 52 cows were caught in the drive and that the task demanded more personnel and more vehicular support. “Some of our staff even got injured in the exercise. Cattle-catching is not an easy drive. When the cattle sensed that they are being forcibly herded, they turned hostile and attacked our staff,” said an official of the Varanasi Municipal Corporation (VMC).
In Gorakhpur, the hometown of chief minister Yogi Adityanath, the drive on its last day saw about 50 stray cattle being caught and sent to shelter homes. The rest, around 2000 in numbers, remain roaming in the state, according to municipal officials.
In Kanpur, the district officials even resorted to the innovative idea of turning closed slaughterhouses into shelter homes. Yet a very small number of stray cattle could be caught and put in shelters. Besides, turning slaughterhouses into cow shelter homes invited the wrath of Jamiatul Quresh, an umbrella body of meat-sellers. They said that the government couldn’t turn slaughterhouses into shelter homes as some of them are the property of State Waqf Board and thus the move is illegal.
In western Uttar Pradesh, districts like Agra, Mathura, and Aligarh have witnessed the problem of cattle menace most severely. In Aligarh and Agra, people were so angry that they herded all stray cattle in their cities and assembled them in the premises of government schools, hospitals and police stations. This led to the state government ordering that all stray cows be brought to cow shallas (cow shelter homes) by January 10. Surprisingly, on January 10, though no major cattle-herding drives were reported from these cities. Stray cattle continued to roam as in the past.
Stray cattle are a regular feature of both rural and urban life of the state. In recent months, they have turned into a serious menace for both common citizens and farmers.
According to the 2012 animal census, there are around 11 lakh stray cattle (both cows and bulls) in the state. The state’s Horticulture Department officials break up these cattle as “100 cattle per gram (village) panchayat”. There are around 59,000 village panchayats in the state.
Besides western UP, areas which have recently witnessed menace by stray cattle include Lucknow, Barabanki, Sitapur, Lalitpur and Siddharthnagar.
According to a report by the village-centric daily Gaon Connection, farmers in central UP and Bundelkhand are forced to keep vigil at night in their fields to keep off stray cattle that enter their fields and destroy the crops.
Arun Mishra, a farmer in Sitapur, said that when the BJP government came to power in 2017, farmers like him expected that the problem of stray cattle would be solved. “But except raising the bar of expectations, the Yogi government has done nothing. You can see farmers sleeping in their fields in this freezing cold,” said Mishra.
Another farmer Naseem said that the stray cattle usually gather around the pond in the village but because of severe cold, they are seen seeking shelters in the fields and gardens and thus are destroying crops.
To keep stray cattle at bay, farmers are forced to protect their fields with iron fences, which are quite costly. “Plus, these iron fences hurt these cattle who forcibly try to enter fields and sometimes get stuck in the fence wires. They get injured, sometimes so severely that many of them have died,” said Surendra Bahadur Singh, a farmer from Aligarh. Singh also runs his own private cow shelter home.
According to Singh, the major reason for such a huge number of stray cattle is their uselessness to farmers.
“The biggest problem of these stray cattle are calves. Farmers rear them until they become young. As little calves, they remain the apple of eyes of farmers’ families but when they grow up, they become a burden. They become a financial burden. They can’t even be employed to plough the fields as tractor and other modern machines do maximum plowing these days. Like cows, they do not yield milk either. No wonder they are abandoned by farmers and left to roam freely like stray cattle,” said Singh.
Singh’s cousin, Ram Bahadur Singh, agrees that until cows are made useful for farmers, they won’t be taken care of by them. He says some farmers no longer consider them holy but a headache instead. Gurbinder Singh, another farmer, says that stray bulls not only invade fields, they attack people. “One of my brothers has been gored by bulls,” said Singh.
A Hindi newspaper recently reported the death of a farmer called Rajpal in Mathrauli village of Gautam Buddha Nagar (Noida). He was hit by a bull and died on the spot. His family and villagers agitated for a week and the Yogi government had to agree for financial compensation for the family.
Farmers also fear that if their crops continue to be destroyed by stray cattle, how they will pay off their loans.
To tackle the problem of stray cows, village panchayats in the state have sent a proposal to the government. They have asked to build a goshala (cow shelter) at every panchayat level. They have also asked to link all these goshalas with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Agency (MNREGA) programme so labourers in the villages are gainfully employed and stray cattle are looked after.
It was after this proposal that the Yogi government ordered to build cow shelters in every village and city. The government has also ordered to construct the Cow Preservation Centres to study methods of protecting cows and calves. Plus, all already-existing cow shelter homes will be renovated as per the government plan. The Horticulture Department officials said that the government also plans to penalise owners of stray cattle.
“If any owner comes to the shelter facility to claim his cattle, he will be made to pay fine for the upkeep of the shelter home,” said an official.
Besides, the government plans to collect donations from all big farmers in villages and cities for these cow shelters. And, according to sources, MLAs and MPs too have been asked to trot out money for the purpose from their development funds.
To top it all, the Yogi government has come out with a new levy for ‘gau raksha’ or cow protection. This will take the form of a 0.5% cess, charged on all things excisable and tolls collected on state highways, bridges and infrastructure-making, as also government-owned companies.
The state government has also earmarked Rs 95 crores for the Kanha Goshala and Stray Cattle Shelter Scheme. Rs 23.5 crores have been separately allocated for the straw material for the cattle.
According to an Economic Times report, Mandis, large wholesale markets licenced by the state that purchase most farm produce, will now pay 2% of income instead of the existing 1%, to protect cows.
However, despite all such discretion on the part of the government, the stray cows seem a roaming failure of the Yogi government. They can be seen in almost every city and every village of the state, unattended, shivering in cold and slowly dying.
Commenting upon the appalling condition of cows and bogus politics of the Yogi government, Ajay Shukla, a retired IAS officer, wrote on his blog:
“The chief minister still refuses to read the writing on the wall: it will cost the state at least Rs 40,000 crore every year to take care of these stray cattle, even if the appalling logistics of the exercise could be tamed. He doesn’t realise (or admit) it, but he has dug himself into a deep hole, and, in accordance with the first rule of all diggers, should now stop digging and reverse this pyrrhic article of faith. The alternative, of course, is for him to keep praying at his Gorakhpur Math till the cows come home. They are on their way.”