THE MAIN gate of Shagun Gaushala, in Chhattisgarh’s Durg district, has the lotus emblazoned on it. Inside, amid the stench of death, hundreds of cows stand, weak and hungry, their ribs showing. Then, there are the carcasses of those that died over the week. Some are rotting in the fields and many in the rows of trenches dug to dispose of the remains being torn apart by stray dogs.
At the centre of it all is the man in charge of the gaushala in Rajpur village — Harish Verma, BJP’s vice president in the nagar panchayat of Jamul, 30 km away. On Friday, he was arrested by police on charges of “breach of trust and negligence”.
Rajpur residents and state officials blame Verma for the deaths of the cows over the last week. But the BJP leader claims his party’s own government let him down by not releasing annual grants for maintaining such gaushalas in a state where cow slaughter is banned.
Residents say “at least 200 cows” have died over the last week, while veterinary doctors confirm they have conducted 27 post mortems in the two days. On Friday, The Indian Express came across 30 fresh carcasses strewn across the length of the gaushala.
Residents say they first noticed “something wrong” on Wednesday evening, when they spotted JCBs digging trenches, and tractors taking away carcasses. “Before this, they never let anyone into the gaushala. But when we heard of this, we entered and saw bodies upon bodies of dead cows. The surviving ones had no food to eat, no water to drink. They were left in the fields to die,” said Shiv Ram Sahu, sarpanch pati of Rajpur.
Following an uproar over the deaths, there has been a constant influx of officials and doctors from the state veterinary department here over the last two days. “We are investigating the case and action will be taken as per rules. I cannot give you a clear number of the dead cows. But prima facie, it seems that they have died due to a lack of fodder and water. We have now arranged for food and water,” said Rajesh Patre, Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Dhamdha.
Responding to the charges, Verma said, “I have been running this gaushala since 2010. I can’t respond to unsubstantiated allegations, but only 16 cows have died in the last two days. The cows sent here are old and infirm, and there is no shortage of food or water. I have done nothing wrong. It rained two days ago and a wall collapsed, which is why they died.”
According to a five-member team from the state veterinary department, the deaths were not due to any wall collapse. “It is clear that these deaths were because of lack of fodder and water. When we were feeding them, they were herding around the food like they have been hungry for days. Since we came here yesterday, the situation has improved,” said Dr M K Chawla, a member of the team. Other doctors have been applying drips to cows too weak to move.
Verma, however, blames government agencies and claims he had alerted them about the cash crunch at the gaushala. “There are meant to be 220 cows, but there are 600. The government is meant to give me Rs 10 lakh per year to maintain the gaushala. But they have not paid for the past two years. I haven’t got the Rs 10 lakh for last year, and while you are meant to give some money every three months, I haven’t got any this year. I wrote to the Chhattisgarh Gau Seva Aayog in December and March about this,” he said.
Dr Panigrahi of the Chhattisgarh Gau Seva Aayog, set up by the state government for the welfare of cows, says payments were suspended because of irregularities in the operation of the gaushala, such as overcrowding. “Anyway, the grant cannot be the only source of income for a gaushala. Gauseva is meant to be self-operated and we can give assistance. The cows are weak and the district teams are working there now,” he said.
“An FIR has been registered and Verma has been arrested under sections related to breach of trust and negligence,” said Dipanshu Kabra, IG (Durg range).
On Friday, hours before his arrest, Verma was surrounded by angry villagers and even workers of the BJP’s yuva morcha, raising slogans, calling him a “hatyara (murderer)”. One common refrain was this: “Bhajpa ki naak kata di (He has embarrassed the BJP).”