In MP, there are around 1,300 cowsheds but most are in a pitiable condition. Credit: Pradip Saha/CSE
In the election-bound states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Telangana, cow protection seems to be the common poll promise.
In MP, the Congress included cow protection in its manifesto for the Assembly election scheduled in November-December by setting up gaushalas or cowsheds in every panchayat and ensuring facilities for veterinary services to injured cows.
In Rajasthan, the Congress is planning to include the same promise in its upcoming manifesto and in Telangana, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is likely to promise free distribution of over 1 lakh cows across the state.
While the ruling party at the Centre has been raking up the cow protection issue since 2014 to reap electoral benefits, those whose livelihood depends (minorities and Dalits) on cattle suffer communal violence and government neglect. The victims, who traditionally carry out slaughter and skinning of animal carcasses, are either dairy farmers or traders.
India witnessed 78 cow-related incidents of violence since 2010, and 97 per cent of these were reported since 2014. This took the victim count to 293, most of whom were Muslims and Dalits.
Out of the 78 incidents, 50 took place in North India and 29 people were lynched. Of these, 25 were Muslims. These figures were released in March in a report prepared by a civil society group, Bhumi Adhikar Andolan.
In MP, there are around 1,300 cowsheds but most are in a pitiable condition. Thousands of cows reportedly died in these cowsheds that received government funds. In states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, the BJP government has put so much legislative restrictions that people are leaving their cows. An atmosphere of fear has put the rural economy out of gear.
Livestock is an essential part of a rural economy. A farmer keeps rotating cattle by selling and buying them to enhance their productivity of milk and income but trade restrictions break the circular economy. On one hand, farmers are forced to abandon their cattle, on the other hand, a rising number of stray cattle is adding to the havoc in rural areas. An army of stray cattle is destroying standing crops and also attacking people. This is the reason why people are leaving their cattle and cowsheds unattended while political parties’ manifestoes are silent on it.
As per the 19th Livestock Census 2012, India has about 190.9 million cattle—14 per cent of the world’s cattle population. Of this, 80 per cent are indigenous. Significantly, the majority of indigenous cattle are non-descript and contribute just 40 per cent of total milk produced in the country. The rest of the milk comes from buffaloes and indigenous and exotic breed of cows.
A Central scheme to revamp genetic make-up and improve indigenous breeds by setting up local centres remains a non-starter. The MP government doesn’t even know how many gokulgrams have been set up. Low productivity of indigenous cattle has been forcing people to leave them. Not to forget, the increasing burden of the rising cost of fodder and its shortage.
It isn’t a surprise that no political party talks about reviving grazing lands or commons land, that acts not only as a source of fodder for cattle but also helps maintain a sustainable ecosystem. It would be a true feat if any party addressed the issue of encroachment of common lands.
Cattle cannot be kept in cowsheds forever. What farmers need is encouragement, not coercive policies that make cattle rearing financially unfeasible.
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