Kanpur Diary: No More Waiting Till the Cows Come Home

District magistrates are 'dung'-founded, students have been sent home, and policemen have been forced to give up their favourite sport of "encounters" and look after cattle.

I always visit my home town, Kanpur, a couple of times a year to refresh my roots and to check whether my Brahmin community has been declared as OBC yet. Just back after an exhilarating and kebabimbued visit, I am happy to report that my roots are thriving, but sadly the Brahmins have not yet been admitted into the hallowed portals of reservations.

The reason for this is two-fold: one, there is some confusion about the caste status of Hanuman after Yogi Adityanath’s claim that he is a Dalit, and there is also a dispute over whether the crucial determinant is gotra or Godhra. The community itself is a divided lot – with some preferring a 10% commission over a 10% reservation – arguing that while the latter might get you into the Sachivalaya (secretariat) the former will get you to Davos, and a photo-op with the prime minister to boot!

And so, while the Brahmins argue among themselves, the cows have quietly taken over the state, in their own docile but persistent way. As I discovered during my visit, the cow dominates all policy-making in UP nowadays (the Kumbh mela comes a close second). This was only to be expected after the banning of slaughter and sale of cattle by the BJP government – and Yogi’s single-minded enforcement of it has turned a problem into a disaster. The facts speak for themselves.

Also read: In UP’s Prayagraj, Students Sit Out in Cold After Farmers Lock Cattle Inside School

According to the UP government’s own 2007-2012 cattle census, the state has 6.46 crore (64 million) cows and buffaloes. Going by the national average, about 64 lakh male calves are born every year, and approximately 60 lakh of the existing population either becomes unproductive or die every year. That means there are about 1.20 crore unproductive cattle generated each year – practically all of them belonging to farmers.

Before the ban, they were sent to abattoirs to feed the meat and leather industry. The farmer received one-fourth of his original investment on an animal – which he used to acquire a new animal. This was a well established 10-year cycle of rural UP. This cycle has now been broken, with disastrous economic and social consequences.

The Indian leather and meat industry is worth $16 billion or about Rs 110,000 crore. It has lost 40% of its worth in the last two years. Agra alone manufactured 1 million pairs of footwear every day. Kanpur has more than five dozen tanneries: its supply of hides has now dropped by 40% and the tanneries have shed some 400,000 jobs (It is estimated that in UP as a whole, lakhs of jobs may have been lost in these two industries).

While this may well have served the BJP’s objective of striking at the economic roots of a particular community, it has had an unintended consequence on another, multi-religious, numerically vast, politically vital community – the Indian farmer.

It wasn’t that the agricultural economists had not sounded the warnings. In a 2017 article, Vikas Rawal, a professor of economics in JNU, had cautioned that the cost of looking after 27 crore unproductive cattle in India would cost the nation Rs 5.40 lakh crore per annum – five times the defence budget. It would require five-lakh acres of land to house them, there was not enough fodder in the country to feed them, and they would need more water than what is consumed by all Indians put together.

Others calculated that it costs a farmer about Rs 30,000-40,000 a year to maintain a cow, bull or buffalo and that there was no way he could bear this expense for an unproductive animal; he would have no choice but to let the animal loose and abandon it. They warned that, if allowed to roam free, these cattle would devastate farmers’ crops and create an agrarian crisis. The then Chief Economic Advisor to the government maintained a pregnant silence, but the pregnancy was noticeable.

Also read: Man Lynched in Bihar’s Araria Over Suspicion of Cattle Theft

Exactly this has now come to pass in Kanpur and the rest of UP over the last month and the whole government is running around in circles like a headless chicken. Farmers in Kanpur, Aligarh, Meerut, Agra and elsewhere do not need this additional burden on top of all their other woes, and have decided to take matters into their own hands: they have started rounding up the stray cattle and driving them into schools, government offices and police stations, and locking the gates.

District magistrates are ‘dung’-founded, students have been sent home, and policemen have been forced to give up their favourite sport of “encounters” and look after these cattle. In one district, all government employees – 15,000 of them by last count – have resolved to adopt one cow each! A panic stricken state government has allocated Rs 10 crore and Rs 1.50 crore to big and small districts, respectively, to build gaushalas. In order to raise funds for this losing battle, last week it imposed additional cesses on excise duty, highway tolls, agriculture market committees, etc.

But the chief minister still refuses to read the writing on the wall: it will cost the state at least Rs 40,000 crore every year to take care of these stray cattle, even if the appalling logistics of the exercise could be tamed. He doesn’t realise (or admit) it, but he has dug himself into a deep hole, and, in accordance with the first rule of all diggers, should now stop digging and reverse this pyrrhic article of faith. The alternative, of course, is for him to keep praying at his Gorakhpur Math till the cows come home. They are on their way.

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. A keen environmentalist and trekker, he has published a book on high altitude trekking in the Himachal Himalayas – The Trails Less Travelled.