Imagine, a school with a large number of cows! Now you would ask how a school could have cows, instead of children. That is exactly what happened at Saipur, a village situated about 30 km from Aligarh town in Uttar Pradesh.
Barely a few days ago, a news-item captured the story of farmers, who braved the cold weather to protect a bunch of cows in UP. Were they actually protecting these cows or did they have some other agenda?
Around 100 cows were locked in the region’s senior secondary school. For days together, the children were not allowed to sit in the school. And they all were, incidentally, non-productive cattle or stray cows. These cows have actually destroyed the crop despite the fact that the farmers guard their fields at night.
For an average Indian, this report may sound shocking. But this is a common sight in India’s most populous state, where BJP is in power. Be it Bahraich or Lakhimpur or Bundelkhand, Mathura or, for that matter, any region in UP, the state is facing a huge cow crisis. People have started locking up bovines in government buildings such as hospitals, schools etc. as they don’t have any other option.
Cattle have been a part of the agricultural economy for millennia. However, over the past one year, people have realised that cows are their biggest enemies, thanks to the cow-love of the current government. Instead of serving a non-productive cow, the farmers find it convenient to set them free. The government has closed most of the slaughter houses in the name of “ gau raksha”. Earlier, farmers used to sell these cows to these slaughter houses.
You may all say, why the farmers don’t send these cows to gaushalas or cow shelters? Well, the central government came with an order in May 2017 on prevention of cruelty to animals, restricting the sale of cattle in market or slaughter houses. The law has empowered the so-called gau rakshaks, who do not think twice before killing people who try to transport cattle from one place to another. All this mess is in the name of gau-raksha! A human life certainly seems to have lost its value ever since the holy cow has taken over.
Not only this, the gaushalas, which hardly had any cows at the beginning of the year, are now running short of space for more cattle. Their managers are having a hard time in making both ends meet. A newspaper published a story comparing two gaushalas – one with 800 cows with one-eighth productive cattle and the other with 2000 cows with hardly any productive cows. Both had similar expenditure but the one with 800 cows was able to run the show by selling milk and compost. The other was entirely dependent on the state funds.
In such a scenario, scenes like the one described at the beginning of this write-up, is only the beginning of the muck that the government has built upon. The situation has reduced the market price of cattle as well. Forget unproductive cattle, even those, who can produce around 10 litres of milk everyday are now available at half the price.
The UP Gau Seva Aayog had given a series of suggestions in June 2018. One of the obvious suggestions was to build new gaushalas with an estimated budget of Rs. 1.2 crore for each district. The government without much delay allocated the budget while deciding to build gaushalas in 12 district jails of the state.
However, soon after its last meeting in June 2018, the tenure of the Aayog’s chairman came to an end and that of its members ended in September 2018. To cut the long story short, the headless Aayog had no one to follow up on the allocated funds. The government has so far not appointed anyone to look after its affairs. Poor cows are made to sit in government schools or hospitals.
The government has neither funds nor infrastructure to protect its favourite animal — cows. And what else could it do except levying a tax or a cess?
While the dawn of New Year may not have changed our lives substantially except for putting a new date in our official correspondence, it may change the lives of cows in the coming days. The state cabinet at its meeting held on January 1, 2019, has decided to levy 0.5 per cent cess on excise items and toll tax in the name of Gau Kalyan (cow welfare). The public sector undertakings shall also have to pay this cess on their profits. The mandi parishads which have been contributing 1 per cent towards gau raksha shall now be contributing another 1 per cent.
The money so collected shall be used for construction of temporary sheds or cow shelters in each rural and urban local body. These shelters will have a minimum capacity of 1000 cattle.
Now, one may ask, if the government had no money to protect cows, why should it disturb the natural ecological balance in the name of its protection? On the other hand, the cold wave has already taken the lives of around 100 people in UP. Are human beings not a priority for the government?
On a second thought, the government intends to spend Rs. 1.2 crore per district, which comes to around Rs. 81.6 crore for construction of these cowsheds. On an average, one cow shed has an operating cost of Rs. 1.5 crore to Rs. 2 crore depending upon the number of non-productive cows. One can easily imagine that the total cost of this project may run into hundreds of crores of rupees. Clearly, the government could have used this money for social welfare or for improving the health facilities or education in the state.
On the contrary, two of the largest Gaushalas in the state were recently in the news for all the bad reasons. One of the oldest guashalas -- The Kanpur Gaushala society –- which houses around 1200 cows is facing a huge financial crunch. One third of the cattle are ill with little funds to take care of the ailing animals. The society hit the headlines in the media as around 150 cows died of starvation last year.
Another cow shelter in Lucknow was in the news as 500 animals died last year, thanks to the grave mismanagement of affairs. Rather than looking into the issue, the government made the local NGO its target. While the managers of these cow shelters struggle to serve the poor cow by collecting donations, the government has not even done the bare minimum of releasing the funds on time. It claims to have increased per cow allocation from Rs. 28 to Rs. 30 a cow per day but the actual expenditure may be on the higher side considering the medical expenses and other needs of the cow.
All said and done, while gau-prem (cow-love) might be a political agenda to garner votes, it is actually an economic burden on the state. It is unfair on the part of the government to meet this expenditure from public money. Not only this, the cow has entered the CSR policies of major corporate like Delwis healthcare, Tata Power, Fullerton India et al.
Some of these companies might have linked livelihood generation as cattle rearing can be a good source of income for the farmers but companies like Delwis healthcare has actually built a huge cowshed housing around 122,000 cows in Ahmedabad. The company spends one fourth of its CSR budget towards cow welfare.
It is unfortunate that the money that should actually go towards social welfare, generating employment, improving healthcare and education is being spent on cow – that seems to be a scapegoat than the revered “Gau-mata” as described in Hindu mythology.
(The writer is a company secretary and can be reached at email@example.com
(Published on 7th January 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 02)