The mass starvation of cows in a shelter run by a BJP leader in Rajpur village of Chhattisgarh’s Durg district may not be an isolated tragedy. The same horror is visible in two other gaushalas that the BJP leader runs not far away. The Indian Express reported in its Saturday edition the deaths of cows for want of food and water at the Shagun Gaushala, run by the BJP’s Jamul Nagar panchayat vice-president Harish Verma. At least 200 cows had died over the last week, villagers said, and The Indian Express counted 30 fresh carcasses on the gaushala premises.
On Saturday, the same ghastly scenes of rotting carcasses lying next to weak, hungry cows barely clinging to their lives were seen at Mayuri Gaushala in Rano village and Phulchand Gaushala in Godmarra village, both in Durg.
Verma, who police said was involved in the running of all three cow shelters, was arrested on Friday for “breach of trust and negligence”. He has accused state government agencies of starving the Rajpur gaushala of funds.
At Rano, 15 km from Rajpur, the gates of Mayuri Gaushala were locked from the outside at 11.30 am on Saturday. A lone policeman stood there; there were no government officials or doctors. Inside the shed, at least 15 carcasses lay rotting, and upwards of 200 emaciated cows, their ribs protruding, herded together on a thick bed of dung, urine and sludge. No fodder or source of water was visible. Seeing humans at the gate, the animals stumbled forward expectantly.
Five kilometres away in Godmarra village, inside the slightly larger shed at Phulchand Gaushala, The Sunday Express counted at least 20 carcasses. Many of what appeared to be hundreds of starving cows were crying out plaintively. Like at Mayuri Gaushala, no food or fodder was visible.
In an open area some distance from the locked shed, stood two tractors overflowing with carcasses of cows, and other carcasses had been dumped on the ground next to a pile of bricks. Villagers estimated there were at least 50 carcasses in the pile, and alleged that gaushala staff had attempted to take some away over the past two days, but had abandoned their attempts after being spotted.
Senior police officers said cases had been registered under sections of prevention of cruelty to animals and breach of trust in all three cases. “It is clear that Harish Verma ran all three gaushalas. He has been arrested, and is being produced in court. Others too were involved in the operation of the Phulchand and Mayuri gaushalas, and we will be arresting them as well,” Dipanshu Kabra, Inspector General of Police, Durg Range, said.
While negligence and breach of trust seem obvious, there was likely a misappropriation of funds too, in all cases. All three gaushalas received grants of lakhs of rupees from the Chhattisgarh Gau Seva Aayog, an independent commission set up by the state government to look after cows. Officials said the grants are meant to aid those running the shelters in procuring fodder, access to water and medicines. According to statements of the Aayog given to police, Shagun Gaushala has received Rs 93 lakh since its inception in 2011. Mayuri and Phulchand have received Rs 22.64 lakh and Rs 50 lakh from 2015 and 2014 respectively.
Asked why there were no checks on the spending of grants, Aayog president Visheshwar Patel said, “We had carried out inspection checks at these gaushalas in July 2016. Irregularities were found, such as inadequate facilities and excessively large numbers of cows. An explanation was sought, but there was no answer. So we stopped the grants as per procedure and recommended action.”
But why were the cows left in this state? “Grants are not the sole source of money for these gaushalas,” Patel said. “They are meant to fund themselves with aid from us. We have now sent teams with fodder and medicines, but things will take time… We are also looking at shifting the cows out. Lekin dikkat to hai. (But there are problems)”
The office of Brijmohan Agrawal, the Minister for Animal Husbandry, who is currently on a visit to Israel, said that the minister had asked for a report from the secretary concerned, and based on findings of gross irregularities, has suspended department officials from the districts of Durg and Bemetera.
Members of the Yuva Congress threw black paint on Harish Verma and pushed him around as the BJP leader was produced in a Durg court on Saturday afternoon. The crowd around Verma heckled him, calling him a gau hatyaara, as policemen escorting him struggled to keep the protesters away. The Pradesh Congress said in an official release that the events of the past two days had shown “the country the real face of the BJP”.
At the gaushalas, some doctors said they were unable to do their job for lack of administrative support. A day after at least 27 autopsies in Rajpur revealed that the animals had starved to death, a team of five veterinary doctors from Bemetera district arrived in Godmarra to conduct autopsies and treat the sick cows. They said that it was important to put distance between the carcasses and the cows to prevent the spread of infection. But angry villagers who suspected the carcasses would be removed and the crime papered over, had prevented them, the doctors said.
“We have been here for hours but we can’t enter the shelter and remove the bodies without administrative support. There are only four or five policemen here, and no senior officials. We have been told they are all at Chief Minister Raman Singh’s function in Bemetera and will come here after it is over,” said Dr Hemant Kumar, standing outside the gate of Phulchand Gaushala with four colleagues.