Above: A truck driver handing over his transportation documents to cow vigilantes for inspection/Photo: UNI
The Congress government in Madhya Pradesh has eased rules governing the transportation of cows to ensure that farmers and traders are not at the mercy of cow vigilantes and extortionists in uniform
By Rakesh Dixit in Bhopal
Bruised by stringent anti-cow slaughter laws and widespread vigilantism, farmers in Madhya Pradesh simply don’t want cows around. Rather than risk extortion by police and brutality at the hands of cow vigilantes, they have so far preferred to abandon the bovines.
The Kamal Nath government has decided to deal a blow to the rampant nexus of venal police and violent vigilantes by easing rules for cow transport. The stated goal of the new cattle transport policy is to ensure that farmers and traders are not harassed by cow vigilantes and stopped by the police. The government has decided to allow trade of cows between farmers by removing a condition that they could buy bovines only from bazaars or haats. It has also proposed to punish those who engage in violence against anyone booked under the anti-cow slaughter law with a jail term of six months to three years and a fine of Rs 25,000-50,000.
The move is expected to boost cattle production and discourage the widespread practice among farmers of abandoning cows which has badly hit the rural economy. Ironically, the state has a law to punish those who abandon cows but farmers still consider it a safer bet than the prospects of coming face to face with the vigilantes.
This has resulted in stray cattle becoming a menace in villages as well as towns across the state. Animal Husbandry Minister Lakhan Yadav says amendments in the rules for cattle transport would effectively take care of the stray cattle besides curbing vigilantism.
The new rules would allow farmers seeking to buy cattle from another state or district to approach the
sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) in their area and seek a no-objection certificate (NOC) after furnishing details of the number of cattle, the prospective buyer and the route they would take while transporting the animals. The NOC—issued for up to 25 heads per vehicle—will be prominently pasted on the vehicle.
Until now, anyone wanting to buy cattle from another state had to seek an NOC from the SDM of that area. Getting an NOC from the SDM of a town in another state is an uphill task for MP farmers. Currently, no NOC is required by farmers seeking to buy from another district within the state but it is fraught with danger of the sellers, buyers and transporters falling prey to the police and vigilantes. As Yadav says: “In the absence of any written permission it is easier for cow vigilantes to stop vehicles transporting cattle and take them to the police. Organisations like the Bajrang Dal do it for the sake of publicity but the cows would be left stranded in police stations. Also, police would illegally charge Rs 100-200 before allowing the vehicles to pass.”
Farmers had been complaining about problems in cattle trade for a long time but owing to religious sentiments associated with cows, the government dithered on addressing the issue. The previous Shivraj Singh Chouhan government toyed with the idea of easing rules for cattle transport but developed cold feet after the RSS intervened. Also, the BJP did not want to annoy saffron outfits like the Bajrang Dal and assorted vigilante groups who thrived on running extortion rackets.
The former chairman of the executive council of the MP Gaupalan Evam Pashudhan Samvardhan Board, Akhileshwaranand Giri, echoed the BJP’s sentiments when he expressed the fear that the rules would make it easier for cow smugglers and cow killers to operate with impunity. “If the government wants to protect cows, it should not relax rules but make them transparent. Or else, it will be difficult to tell smugglers and killers from farmers, worshippers and protectors,’’ he says.
The Congress government, too, was reluctant to tweak the stringent cattle transport rules lest the BJP whip up religious sentiments and portray the ruling party as anti-Hindu. But the flak the government faced over its handling of two recent incidents made the chief minister revisit the issue.
On May 22, a day before the election results brought the BJP back to power for a second term at the centre, three Muslim youngsters, including a woman, were beaten up by cow vigilantes over rumours of carrying beef in Seoni district. Eight people—including the three victims of the violence—were arrested. According to police, the victims were arrested as possession, transportation or sale of beef is illegal in Madhya Pradesh. The incident drew nationwide condemnation as it was the first instance of cow vigilantism in Madhya Pradesh under the Congress which had wrested power from the BJP after 15 years. Political parties, barring the BJP, wondered aloud if nothing had changed after the regime change in Madhya Pradesh as far as cow vigilantism was concerned. The 15-year BJP rule witnessed numerous incidents of saffron goons thrashing cow traders in connivance with the local police and the Chouhan government handled the goons with kid gloves.
In February, three Muslim youngsters were arrested in Khandwa district on the charge of cow slaughter and the National Security Act (NSA) was invoked against them by the superintendent of police. Later, however, the NSA was revoked following severe criticism of the Kamal Nath government on the issue.
The two incidents not only dented the Congress government’s image but also left the farmers, who were hoping for an improvement in the dismal cattle transport scenario, disappointed. Easier and safer cow transport rules are expected to boost the livestock economy which is at a crossroads.
The nature of the cattle economy started shifting from “agriculture and transportation” to “milk yield” after farms became increasingly mechanised in the early 1970s. The vigilantism in the wake of the BJP’s ascendance to power only worsened the situation. Official sources claim that after cattle transport gathers momentum in the wake of easing of the rules, the pressure on the government to manage stray cows will also ease.
The Congress had promised in its assembly election manifesto to build a cow shed in each of the 23,000 village panchayats. Funds have already been earmarked to open 1,000 cowsheds. But the acute paucity of land in villages is putting paid to the ambitious plan.
Sources in the government admit that with all the grandiose talks about cow conservation, maintaining bovines under government supervision is a tall order. The failed experiment of the cow sanctuary—India’s first—in Agar-Malwa district is a case in point. The Kamdhenu Gau Abhayaranya, located in Salaria village in Agar district, stopped taking in cows in February last year, barely five months after it first opened in September 2017. The sanctuary has neither the money nor the manpower to accommodate more cattle.
According to the original plan, the sanctuary was meant to house 6,000 cows in 24 sheds. Smoother cattle transport is good news for farmers, if implemented properly, and bad news for cow vigilantes. It remains to be seen how the Congress government deals with self-styled cow protectors whose flourishing racket will be hit hard by the new rules.