There is chaos in the state of Uttar Pradesh over the sharp increase in the cattle population that has been abandoned by farmers.
The deadline to send stray cattle to shelters — set by the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath — has long passed. Stray cattle are very much on the streets — and destroying crops, adding to the miseries of distressed farmers.
Clashes between farmers and local administration over locking up stray cattle in government buildings are being reported from all over the state. The BJP government in the state claimed to have effectively cracked down on cow smugglers — but there are reports now suggesting that NGOs working for animal rights are using their ambulances to transport cattle out of UP. There is growing anger in the villages as the Yogi-government has failed to provide an effective solution to the problem it has created.
'Gau Mata', or the holy cow, is an integral part of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's (RSS) philosophy of a Hindu Rashtra. It was no surprise, therefore, that soon after coming to power in Uttar Pradesh, the Yogi government ordered the flourishing business of illegal slaughterhouses to be shut down. Yogi’s popularity had soared following an effective crackdown. Lynching incidents in UP and the neighboring states also created an impact on the smuggling of cows, and the smugglers have almost disappeared.
To add teeth to the existing Cow Protection Law, the Yogi government ordered slaughter and smuggling to be punishable under the stringent National Security Act (NSA) and Gangsters Act.
However, while undertaking such harsh measures for cow protection, the UP government failed to realise that all this would prove to be counter-productive.
Double role for cows in UP — venerated by some, berated by others. (Representational image: Reuters)
After a year and a half, the state has seen a sharp increase in the population of unproductive cow and bulls.
While the animal census in 2012 estimated about two crore cows in the state, the population is much higher now. With barely 500 registered cow shelters in the state, there is hardly any space to house them. There are also reports that most of the land meant for grazing in the villages have been encroached upon by locals who enjoy political support during various regimes.
This has led to an unprecedented situation and turned into a law and order problem for the government.
With farmers abandoning their unproductive cows and male calves, their population has risen sharply over the past 18 months. This population of stray cattle is invading fields and destroying crops. Farmers initially tried to check the invasion by fencing their farms with barbed wires — but that led to an increase in cattle injuries. With the veterinary department already in shambles, there is hardly any system in place for such injured cattle.
To get rid of the problem, farmers started catching the stray cattle themselves. However, due to a lack of cow shelters, the farmers are leaving the the stray cattle in schools and local government offices.
Existential question for the bovines of Uttar Pradesh — To be or not to be? (Representational image: India Today)
This has led to clashes between farmers and the local administration every day. To counter this, in the first week of January, the Chief Minister instructed all District Magistrates to ensure that stray cattle are put in shelters by January 10. The deadline came and went — and the stray cattle continue to roam freely in the fields, streets and highways of Uttar Pradesh. The Yogi government earned no brownie points by further announcing that it will penalise owners who abandon their cattle. Reports of FIRs against farmers have only added to their fury against the government.
To avoid FIRs and police action, some villages are now making arrangements to transport the stray cattle caught by them out of state. There are reports that some NGOs working for animal rights are cashing in on the misery of the farmers. Ambulances meant for transporting sick animals make it easier for these NGOs to transport the cattle out of UP — with contradictory reports as to where these cattle are being taken.
While the NGOs claim they taking stray cattle to cow shelters on the outskirts of Delhi and Haryana, there are reports that they are sent to abattoirs near Ambala and Yamunanagar. Farmers are forced to cough up sums as high as Rs 6,000 per stray cattle, to transport them out of the state — the NGOs are reportedly making hay while the sun shines.
While the state government claims that cow smuggling has come to standstill, the reality is far from this, and these activities are reportedly going on often with the support of the administration and the police.
Finally waking up to reality, the government announced new cow shelters in 50 districts with an annual budget of Rs 1.20 crore for each shelter. It also plans to impose 0.5 per cent cow welfare cess to fund these shelters, besides working on the bovine sex selection to contain the bull population.
However, all these efforts seem to be too little, too late. With a cow's lifespan of about 20 years, we are already in this fraught situation in just a year and half. One dreads imagining the consquences in the future when the population will grow.
The simmering anger on this issue among farmers may prove costly for the BJP in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls — the state has the highest number of cows, and also the maximum number of Lok Sabha seats in the country.
BJP policymakers will need to keep an eye on both the numbers to overcome the big hurdle ahead.
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