An HP High Court order bans cow slaughter and consumption of beef in the state. It also quotes a feedback which said it would cost `28.5 lakh to make just one home for cows. Imagine replicating this all over the country
By Ajith Pillai
Beef consumption and cow slaughter are two emotive issues that have generated much political heat and outrage in the last few months. At the core of the controversy is the question: should we send the animal, revered by a section of the population, to the chopping block or should we allow it to age gracefully and die a natural death? While those articulating the second course of action as being more humane and respecting Hindu sentiments have repeatedly pointed out the need to protect the gau mata, they have not adequately addressed the huge economic costs and other ground realities involved in its upkeep till old age ends its life.
Instead, they have reduced it to a political and communal issue which they believe can be settled through mob action against those suspected of cow slaughter or consumption of beef. This has led to attacks on Muslims and Christians who are often conveniently seen as the prime consumers of beef when studies have revealed that a sizeable section of Hindus and Dalits have been consuming bovine meat for generations since it is far cheaper than either mutton or chicken.
Luckily, a Himachal Pradesh High Court jud-gment last month addressed the economic dimension of the issue even as it directed the center to consider enacting a law to end cow slaughter nationally and to put a total ban on the sale, export and import of beef and beef products in the country. Crucially, the court also directed the center to provide necessary funds to the Himachal Pradesh government for housing and providing fodder to cows and stray cattle in the state. The court order came on a writ petition filed last year by the San-verdhan Bhartiya Govansh Rakshan Pari-shad, a Shimla-based NGO seeking a court directive to save cows from being slaughtered in the state.
But what about the costs involved? The court order quotes the feedback it received from district officials across Himachal Pra-desh. This is what the deputy commissioner of Shimla submitted before the two-judge Bench, which is duly recorded in the judgement. To quote: “The Deputy Commissioner, Shimla was directed on 2.5.2015 to ensure that the land is transferred for the construction of Gosadans to the respective Panchayats within a period of three months from 2.5.2015. He was also directed to send realistic figures of the amount to be incurred for the construction of Gosadans (homes for cows) in Distt. Shimla after getting the building plans etc. prepared from the duly qualified Architect within a period of two months…
“In sequel to the directions issued by this Court on 2.5.2015, the Deputy Commissi-oner, Shimla has filed an affidavit on 13.8.2015. According to the averments contained in the affidavit, out of the total 363 Gram Panchayats in the District Shimla, total 357 Panchayats have identified and selected the land for the construction of Gosadan.
However, feasibility of construction of a Gosadan in each Panchayat was to be ascertained by the BDO as well as the SDM of that area, keeping in view the high cost of construction and maintenance of these Gosadans. The estimate of the cost of construction of one unit of Gosadan to house 30 animals on scientific patters (patterns) amounts to Rs. 28.50 lac as submitted by District Panchayat Officer, dated 31.7.2015. The cowshed would cost amounting to Rs. 16.41 lac, fodder store would cost Rs. 8.92 lac and guard room would cost Rs. 3.16 lac. These estimates were again got checked by the competent Engineer who endorsed the estimates.”
The feedback to the court made it amply clear that funds were required for fodder for the cattle and the upkeep of stray animals as directed by an earlier order of the same Court on October 7, 2014. There was much paper work and clearances necessary for acquiring suitable land for establishing gosadans. Refurbishing and extending existing facilities also entailed financial support from the state. In fact, the conclusion that one can draw is that an elaborate priority plan has to be drawn up and implemented at various levels to ensure cow protection.
The High Court, in its latest judgment last month, directed the Himachal Pradesh government to also register all cattle in the state. “All the State Panchayats throughout of Himachal Pradesh through Secretary (PR) are also directed to adopt micro-chipping number process on private/stray cattle, whe-reby an electronic chip is inserted in the animal having unique ID number which can be read with the help of a scanner and owner can be identified, for the purpose of enumeration, within 6 months from today.” A pilot “micro-chipping” project, the court was informed, was already under way in a village in Old Manali at a cost of `225 per chip. The plan is to extend this project to the rest of the state.
The state government has also been direc-ted by the Court “to make the citizen throughout the State of Himachal Pradesh aware about the animal rights and their welfare by issuing public notices in the leading English and vernacular newspapers.” A large-scale campaign will have to be launched not only among the general public but among veterinary professionals, law enforcement agencies, district officials and dairy farmers as well about the need to protect and tend to cattle. This effort will require human resources inputs as well as funding.
If setting up a single gosadan in a district costs `28.5 lakh, then imagine the monies involved in duplicating even one such unit in each of the 600 districts in the country. And that would in all cater to only 18,000 animals. According to the 2014 livestock census of the agriculture ministry, the population of milch animals is 118 million.
A cow is usually considered economically useful for about five years of its adult life, although it lives up to 15 years. Thus, the turnover of “senior cows” each year would be huge and its maintenance would involve considerable financial input. According to an official of the agriculture ministry, the seed money for setting up infrastructure to house unproductive bovines would be `10,000 crore with additional annual allocation for fodder, care and salaries of staff employed to look after them.
While the Court order bans cow slaughter and sale, consumption and export of beef in Himachal Pradesh, it also strongly recommends a nationwide ban. However, it stops short of issuing an order binding on the central government. The order notes: “Though, no writ of mandamus can be issued to respondent No. 10 (the Union of India) to enact a legislation to prohibit slaughtering of cow/calf and putting restrictions on import and export of cow/calf, milch and other cattle or import and export of cow/calf, including sale of beef or beef products, however, in view of Article 48, 48-A and 51-A(g) of the Constitution of India, the Union of India is directed to consider to enact the law prohibiting slaughtering of cow/calf, import or export of cow/calf, selling of beef or beef products, in its own wisdom at the national level, within a period of three months from today. The Union of India is also directed to provide necessary funds to the State Government for housing and providing fodder to cows/stray cattle for the specially framed Schemes for the protection and conservation of cow/calf…”
The judgment does not say it in as many words, but when looked at dispassionately, cow slaughter is an issue that requires government intervention which goes beyond banning beef consumption or cow slaughter. It involves looking after the cow’s welfare from birth to its natural death. For this, government intervention is essential. If the gau rakshak brigade is serious, it should pressure the Narendra Modi government to allocate adequate funds for the maintenance of the cow beyond its productive years. It would have to be a major economic policy decision.
Champions of cow protection must also bear in mind the ground reality that the animal is not primarily reared for religious reasons but for economic ones—namely the milk it produces. And once it stops lactating, it becomes a liability for its owner. In fact, when cows are not milking in between pregnancies, they are let loose on the streets by their owners to fend for themselves. They can be seen feeding on refuse from garbage bins.
There are many other aspects of the cow protection programme that have not been addressed by the judgement. A dairy farmer in Kerala contacted by India Legal had this to say: “A cow protection force will have to be created which will be empowered to act against those violating the ban. This task cannot be left to self-appointed saviors of the animal. Farmers who look after animals after they have stopped milking will have to be provided a subsidy to maintain such cattle. Otherwise, the number of people into cow farming will come down because they find it economically unviable.”
A welfare state for the cow requires more than lip service from the government. It needs to be backed by policy decisions requiring serious spending from the exchequer.