As Stray Cattle Wreak Havoc on Farmers, Why We Need a Policy for Ageing Cows

As more cows reach the non-productive age, the number of abandoned cows will swell and spill over to fields. Will ear tags and bovine sanctuaries end the farmers’ curse?

Until the post-2014 surge of cow nationalism, problem of stray cattle was an urban phenomenon. Credit: PTI

Until the post-2014 surge of cow nationalism, problem of stray cattle was an urban phenomenon. Credit: PTI

It was just 13 weeks ago that the Modi government had imposed the cattle trade ban. But already there are reports of angry farmers chasing the cows with lathis and acid sprayers to protect their crops from the ravaging herds. In many places, the abandoned cows are being beaten up for savouring haystacks and fodder stored for the lactating ones. The economic burden of the unwanted cows and damage to crops by stray bovines are set to aggravate farm stress in large parts of the cow belt.

Among the half dozen proposals to deal with the stray cows are Aadhaar tags on the animal’s ears, cess to mop up funds for old age ‘pension’ for the abandoned cattle and dumping them into newly created forest ‘sanctuaries’.

The first report of the acid attack on cows had come from Karmana near Agra. The local Bajrang Dal workers had first blamed the usual suspects. But soon they realised that it was the Hindu farmers who had attacked the holy cows to protect their crops from the marauding herds. District officials have revealed that there was a spurt in attacks on stray cows in other areas as well.

In some places farmers are forced to keep round-the-clock vigil with lathis and brickbats. Some farmers have already lost thousands of rupees worth of crop due to the foraging by the abandoned cows. Reports of such destructions have come from states like UP, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra.

In Lakhimpur Kheri, farmers have resorted to another novel method. They rounded up the stray cows and locked them up in local government schools. The police and district officials had to intervene to remove the cows. UP chief minister Adityanath had directed the local administrators to set up cow shelters in seven districts and 16 corporations of the region. In a statement, he chided the cow owners and asked them to look after the dry cows like ‘your aged parents’.

However, experiences of gaushalas have not been encouraging either. Scandals involving starvation and large-scale deaths of cows and the miserable condition of the cow shelters have come from Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh where around 200 cows had perished in the cow shelter run by a saffron leader. An inquiry has since been ordered into it and other government-funded cow shelters.

Until the post-2014 surge of cow nationalism, problem of stray cattle was an urban phenomenon. ‘Gau raksha’ and beef attacks that had paid rich political dividends in the past are beginning to boomerang on its perpetrators. At the moment, the cow explosion is in its first stage. As more and more cows reach non-productive age, the number of abandoned cows will swell and spill over to the cane and grain fields.

Madhya Pradesh, where the menace is severe, has already begun fixing a yellow ‘Aadhaar’ tag containing the animal’s date of birth, owner’s name and address, milk yield and health data. This digitised system will enable police to spot the owner of the cow and penalise them. The idea is to prevent the owners from dumping their non-productive assets in faraway places to escape detection. The state government will first tag all its 54 lakh cows and later 36 lakh other cattle.

Another proposal is to impose a cess on milk cooperatives like Mother Dairy and Amul as well as private diaries to create an old age home fund for the unwanted cows. The funds could be used to open modern cow shelters. A variant of it is to transfer the money to the owners on the condition that the ‘retired’ cows will remain confined to their premises.

Union minister Hansraj G. Ahir is the proponent of the sanctuary idea. According to his plan, governments of 16 states where cow slaughter is banned should carve out 1,000 acres of forest land in each district. The unwanted cows could be dumped into the sanctuary, which will not entail any recurring expenditure.

Saffron techies also have novel suggestions like insemination of cows with sex-determined male sperms or the biological planting of a terminator that will self-limit the life span of the cows when they become dry. From Patna, Lalu Prasad Yadav has another simple solution: herd the dry cows to the local BJP and RSS leaders’ home and tie them at the gate.

Finally, this writer can add two more suggestions. Officially, the BJP has nearly 9.50 crore enrolled members. Amit Shah can perhaps direct them to adopt one cow each. He can also persuade the RSS to ask every shakha to look after all stray cows in its area. Second, Narendra Modi can make an appeal, at the next Pravasi conclave, to his rich NRI friends to create a special purpose vehicle to service the gaumatas at their old age.

P. Raman is a senior journalist.