Rajasthan Government Faces Blowback on Bill To Use Cow Welfare Surcharge To Fight COVID-19

BJP leaders and members of 'gau raksha dals' have opposed the move, saying it would impact gaushalas and herds.

Jaipur: With the COVID-19 pandemic not showing any signs of ebbing, the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in Rajasthan recently passed a Bill in the state assembly to spend part of the surcharge collection on stamp duty, meant to conserve cows, to provide immediate relief to patients of the coronavirus infection.

On May 14 this year, the state government promulgated the Rajasthan Stamp (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 to amend the Rajasthan Stamp Act, 1998. While the Section 3-B of the Act had the phrase “surcharge for conservation and propagation of cow and its progeny”, the ordinance added “and for mitigating natural or man-made calamities”. This meant that the surcharge could now be used to contain drought, flood, epidemic and public health exigencies, along with catering to cow welfare.

Subsequently, on August 21, the Congress government introduced the Rajasthan Stamp (Amendment) Bill, 2020. It has reasoned that the scope of use of the surcharge should be widened to “provide immediate relief to people suffering from the sudden outbreak of COVID-19 in the form of food, shelter, transportation and health services and also having in mind the future need of resources for emergent situations.”

The Bill was passed by the assembly on August 24, but has now become the focus of a fresh controversy.

The surcharge for cow welfare was introduced by the previous Vasundhara Raje-led Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) government in 2016.

During Raje’s last tenure, Rajasthan became the only Indian state to have a dedicated ministry for cow welfare. Its first minister was Otaram Dewasi. In 2018, the Raje government also imposed 20% cess on sale of liquor for the protection of cows.

The BJP regime’s cow protection agenda gave rise to several self-styled gau rakshak dals (cow protection squads). These fringe groups, in the name of protecting cows from being slaughtered, have been found to target dairy farmers from the Muslim community and in most cases, lynch them publicly.

The Congress government’s move to divert funds dedicated for cow welfare to fight calamities has drawn criticism from the various dals based in Rajasthan.

Head of the Rajasthan Cow Welfare Committee Dinesh Giri has termed the legislation gau-droh (betrayal of cows) and said that as a result of the Bill, cows in the state would starve to death.

“The BJP government had worked tremendously to ensure that the cows are conserved and protected in the state. The Congress government wants to undo all the policy decisions taken in favour of the cows. We will not let them do it so easily,” Khillimal, head of a gau-raksha dal based in Rajasthan’s Alwar told The Wire.

The dals have pledged a state-wide protest on September 21 to force the Ashok Gehlot government to take back its “anti-cow” legislation.

Representative image of a leader of a cow vigilante group. Photo: Reuters/Files

‘Big injustice’ says BJP leader

The opposition BJP has also slammed the Congress government. Speaking to The Wire, Dewasi, the cow minister under the previous BJP regime, said, “Under Vasundhara Raje, our government established the first-ever cow ministry. The ministry needed to offer grants to support the gaushalas and for that, surcharge on stamp duties was introduced.”

“The Congress government’s move is a big injustice to Rajasthan cow herds. For years, people of Rajasthan had happily paid the surcharge because they worship cows, but if the government is going to use it for other purposes, the public will not be willing to pay,” Dewasi further added.

It must be noted that the conditions of gaushalas deteriorated under the Raje government despite Rajasthan being the only state with a dedicated ministry for cow welfare. Massive mismanagement in the Jaipur’s Hingonia gaushala was exposed in October 2016, which forced the then Rajasthan government to outsource its maintenance to the Akshaya Patra Foundation.

Interestingly, while responding to a question in the state assembly in 2020, the Gehlot government disclosed that Rs 1,252 crore was earned in the last two years as surcharge for cow protection.

The state has received Rs 266.13 crore as surcharge on stamp duty for cow protection in the year 2018-19, and Rs 291.98 crore in the year 2019-20. The revenue from cess on sale of liquor for cow protection stood at Rs 270.12 crore in 2018-19, and Rs 424.68 crore in 2019-20.