Yogi Adityanath needing a cess to build cow shelters is proof of the havoc wrought by gau rakshaks and govt trading rules
For a party that swears by the cow, getting the cow-equation wrong has to be particularly upsetting, more so when, instead of getting the BJP votes, it may actually cost the party votes. Nowhere is the evidence of the cow equation having gone wrong stronger than in Uttar Pradesh, home to India’s largest population of both cows and buffaloes—10% of cows and 30% of buffaloes—and, as it happens, the state that has the largest number of Lok Sabha seats as well. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s rush to build cow shelters and his cow cess to fund this is a sign of how serious the issue has become.
While the government’s new animal slaughter rules of 2017—these made even the trading of camels at animal fairs difficult since each trade had to be accompanied by a will-not-slaughter undertaking by the buyer—propitiated the gau rakshaks and all those who venerate cows, it played havoc with not just those involved in the meat trade, and upset the economics of even those engaged in the dairy industry.
With farmers not able to sell their cows even after they had stopped giving milk—even the sale of bulls became difficult after the gau rakshak tension and the livestock rules—they simply turned them loose in order to at least escape the financial burden of looking after them; in terms of both providing feed as well as a place to stay. While this may have helped one lot of farmers, it hurt another lot who found the stray cattle eating up their crops; and when the herd of strays became really big, it caused other law and order problems as well. According to a report in The Times of India, residents of some villages locked up stray cattle in schools and health centres, forcing the children to go home.
How many cattle are stray is not clear, but official data—the latest data is, sadly, just for 2012—puts the number of buffalo slaughtered in 2012 at 9 million and the cattle at 3.2 million across the country. If farmers find it difficult to sell these cattle or buffaloes due to the new restrictions, chances are they will set them loose so that they can fend for themselves. In other words, while the BJP’s aim is to protect cows, the combination of its cattle-trading rules and not cracking down on gau rakshaks and lynching—on the suspicion of a cow being killed—has jeopardised even legitimate trade.
If the cost of feed is assumed at Rs 60 per day for each animal, being forced to look after 15 million animals each year means that is an additional cost of `32,850 crore that hapless farmers will have to bear if the rules choke off livestock slaughter; this does not include the Rs 4,000-5,000 per animal that farmers no longer get for old cattle. The actual costs for the farmers will be higher as time goes by, since 14-15 million is the annual addition to the number of animals that farmers will not be able to sell and will need to look after.
If you assume 5% of the cattle population has to be culled each year due to old age, not giving enough milk etc, that is 9-10 lakh cows each year in the case of Uttar Pradesh alone; since this will increase by this number every year, it is easy to understand why a panicky Adityanath has given orders that the cow shelters be built at the earliest. The final number may even be higher since, over time, the proportion of males—amongst both cattle and buffaloes—has been falling, suggesting culling is a routine feature of the dairy industry. In the case of cows, in Uttar Pradesh, the share of male cattle has around halved over the 2003-12 decade, from 46.9% to 25.1%; in absolute terms, the number of male cattle is down from 8.7 million to 4.9 million. Male buffaloes in Uttar Pradesh are down by around 2.5 lakh in this period while, at the all-India level, there has been a 3.5 million reduction between 2007 and 2012. Anything that disrupts industry practice has consequences for both the meat and the dairy industry.
And since Adityanath realises he can’t possibly build enough shelters—after which the state needs to spend `60 on the feed of each animal every day—he has told officials to track down farmers who are abandoning their cattle and levy strict fines on them. While it is not clear if the police have the means to do this, if they do succeed, it will only intensify the farmers’ anger; more so since police harassment will rise.
It is true that, especially with law and order being a state government subject and not under the Centre’s control, there is little the Modi government can do to stop cow-slaughter-based lynching and other crimes, but it would help enormously if the cattle trading rules were just withdrawn. The rules were, in fact, diluted last year to take care of this, but the continued problem in states like UP suggest the changes are being ignored. So, enough publicity needs to be given to this to ensure that old levels of trading resume; more important, if strict action is not taken against vigilantes, the new rules make little difference. Only when this is done will farmers stop abandoning their animals after their useful life. Doing so, however, will mean Modi will have to dial down on his very public opposition to what he called the ‘pink revolution’, or the killing of animals for exports; while it may have started as a move to stop illegal killing of cows in their prime, it is now affecting even the sale of bulls and buffaloes and the livelihood of farmers.