Above: The menace of stray cattle has now affected movement of traffic on major roads and streets in UP/Photo: Anil Shakya
The UP government should actually be spending its scarce resources on education and healthcare but ends up levying cess to build gaushalas for abandoned cattle
By Govind Pant Raju in Lucknow
The Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh is currently plunged into a huge debate over its decision to levy a cow welfare tax—0.5 percent gau kalyan tax will be levied on all excise items. Some of the items covered by the cess are alcohol, apart from toll tax, while various public sector infrastructure companies will provide funds for the construction and maintenance of cow shelters across the state. This policy has been cleared by the state cabinet.
Ever since the government cracked down on illegal slaughterhouses in UP, the menace of stray cattle has become severe. Farmers in the state allegedly incurred severe losses due to stray cattle destroying their crops. They retaliated by locking up cows inside schools and police stations and more than 100 such incidents have been reported.
Nearly six million cows roam freely on India’s roads, according to the 2012 livestock census and a vast chunk of them are in Uttar Pradesh. The numbers could only have gone up in the years since then and this has led to a rise in traffic accidents involving cows in the last couple of years, although comprehensive statistics on the problem are still missing.
Other cases reported in the state included smuggling of cows, stealing them for meat and people being lynched for slaughtering cows or eating beef. While no proper care is given to the ageing cows, it has led to increased accidents on roads.
Meanwhile, the state government is busy patting itself on the back as it feels its irrevocable love for cows is demonstrated through this cess which will improve conditions for the animals. For this, temporary cowsheds (gaushalas) will be opened in all villages, panchayats, municipalities, nagar panchayats and municipal corporations through the MGNREGS funds.
In every district, both urban and rural, a cowshed with a minimum capacity of 1,000 animals will be built with the money generated from the cess. While stating that farmers are fast adopting the mechanised route for farming activities involving cattle, the officials said that more and more cattle owners are now abandoning their animals as they are neither needed for draught power nor breeding.
The new policy ensures that these stray animals are taken care of and concerned departments work with the state government in coordination for better results. Besides aiding the animal husbandry department, these “ashray sthals” will be working on a self-sustaining model.
State cabinet minister and state government spokesperson Srikant Sharma said, “This has been done so that people can also contribute in cow protection. Since our government came to power, we have worked effectively for this cause. We imposed a strict ban on cow slaughter.”
The truth, however, is that all this was mandated by the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court and not by some passionate drivel as it is being made out to be.
The High Court pointed out that the state government is expected to direct all the local bodies, town areas and gram panchayats to establish slaughterhouses for management of cattle and establish gaushalas with not less than 1,000 cows so that their protection is ensured.
The state government has not only to come up with a plan of production, management and safety but must also deal with the animal once they reach old age and after natural death.
However, it is to be noted that the cow is also big business in India. The country earns huge foreign exchange from meat exports and a ban on this would adversely affect the economy. The implementation of any law without broad-based management would threaten our economic interest and employment potential.
The High Court had remarked that the time had come when it may strike a note of caution for the state to evolve a policy for the protection, nutrition and management of production of cows under Section 7(2) of the UP Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1955, as amended by Act No. 14 in 2002. As per the Act “the State Government may make such other alternative and additional arrangements for taking care of such cows, bulls or bullocks as it may deem necessary”.
The population of cows is gender-based and due to scientific advancement, male calves are no more prominently used in agriculture.
Therefore, the state government is under obligation to lay down a complete scheme of production, purchase and sale of male calves.
So far as the female calves are concerned, the state government has not only to come up with a plan of production, management and safety but also deal with the animals in old age and after natural death. The government has to evolve a complete plan before implementing the law punitively.
The intensity of the cow protection issue is visible by the fact that the government on June 5, 2018, without a second thought, issued the fifth state law commission report, called The Uttar Pradesh Cow and its Progeny (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Prohibition of Slaughter) Bill, 2018. Justice Aditya Nath Mittal’s 206-page report has very critically analysed and laid down the importance of the commission and has suggested amendments to the existing law. According to the report, despite making cow slaughter illegal in 2017, there are 52,159 cases pending in courts.
The year 2018 witnessed an improvement in these numbers but the state has still not paid any heed to the report. More important, the report mandates the establishment of a requisite institute by the government or local authority when directed by the government to accept, keep, maintain and take care
of infirm, injured, stray, barren or uneconomic cows. The state may also provide financial and technical support to such institutions.
It also mandates that the government shall devise schemes, projects or programmes for conservation and up-gradation of indigenous breeds of cows and provide incentives for production, processing and marketing of milk or milk products obtained from indigenous breeds of cows.
Legislation aside, these policies may be signals of something even more troubling. Whether they are signs of turbulent times ahead, only time will tell.