Thirty-nine British-era dairy farms, catering to defence forces, are set to close down across the country in November, putting a question mark over their hybrid Frieswal cows. Workers at the Allahabad farm, the oldest in the country, have been protesting against the closure orders issued by the Ministry of Defence for over two weeks now.
The proposal to shut down the farms has been pending for five years, but has now been cleared. It will leave around 25,000 high-yielding Frieswal cows without a home and hundreds of workers without jobs, sources in the Ministry of Defence said.
The Frieswal cows were brought to India by the British, who thought that Indian cows and their milk were unhygienic. “When they moved from one city or station to another, they would take their cattle as well. This was becoming a burden. So the British army decided to set up dairy farms near major cantonments, the first in Allahabad in February 1889,” M Sahu, the manager, says, overseeing a small puja on the campus temple.
“No farmer or dairy cooperative will buy these cows because they are found nowhere else in the country, so no one knows how to rear them. They are too expensive to maintain,” says Shiv Varan, a staffer member overseeing the bath where the milch cows are showered three times a day in the humid sunny afternoons of Allahabad. Talking of the farm’s 600 cows, he adds, “These will be sold to slaughterhouses.”
Each Frieswal cow gives over 3,600 litres of milk on an average per lactation cycle, compared to around 2,000 litres for an ordinary cow.
Lt Col Gyan Prakash, the officer in-charge at the Allahabad farm, admits that the Animal Husbandry Department and 25 private dairies have refused to take the cows “They do not have the space, the wherewithal, the expertise to rear these animals. If they are not cared for properly, they will die because they have lower resistance than the ordinary Indian cow,” Prakash says. An Army spokesperson refused to comment on the reasons for the closure orders or what they would do with the cattle.
The 128-year-old Allahabad farm is spread over 700 acres, and supplies milk and dairy products to defence forces at the Allahabad Cantonment and the Bamrauli Air Force base. The campus also has a 300-metre railway line, that once used to transport milk to a processing unit, but now lies defunct. Apart from other places in UP, such farms are located in Haryana, Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Jammu and Kashmir.
“There are nearly 200 contractual employees and daily wage workers (at the Allahabad farm). Where will they go?” asks Varan. “How can Modiji let this happen? This government claims to protect gau mata and instead it is kicking them out. We request the central government to save the cows and give us a window of two years before shutting down the farm,” he adds, joined by the cow keepers, each of whom is in charge of 14 animals.
Sources said that with milk available through cooperatives, military dairies have become obsolete. Under the Defence Ministry plan, structures at the farms would be demolished and the land used for other purposes. The cows are practically the only thing standing in the way.