SOFT drink bottle caps, iron nails, coins, blades, safety pins, stones and temple waste, besides heaps of plastic, are among the things that are being surgically removed from the stomachs of cows brought to Jaipur Municipal Corporation’s Hingonia Goshala everyday.
The Indian Express last week visited the state-run goshala, now at the centre of a political blame game over the deaths of hundreds of cows during the past few weeks, and witnessed one such operation, where livestock assistants helped veterinary surgeons yank out heaps of toxic waste from the stomach of a cow, at times using a saw to cut out the tough waste.
The goshala, under the administrative control of Jaipur Municipal Corporation, is about 50 km from Jaipur, at the end of a gravel road in a landscape dotted with brick kiln chimneys. Although hundreds of cows died of starvation and because of unsanitary conditions at the state-run facility over the past few weeks, “unprotected” cows, sheep and even camels grazed around the goshala, apparently quite healthy. The same rains that created the unhygienic conditions inside brought about a green cover on the fallow lands outside for other cattle to feed on.
The management as well as doctors agree that most cows brought to the facility are weak, almost terminal cases. Their misery was aggravated by a strike by JMC contractual workers who refused to clean the sheds due to non-payment of salaries; heavy rains turned the sheds into pools of slush.
Established in 2002, Hingonia Goshala is the responsibility of two government departments. Jaipur Municipal Corporation under the housing and urban development department is responsible for the upkeep of the sheds while the department of animal husbandry takes care of the medical treatment of cattle brought to the facility.
Under fire from the opposition Congress as well as Hindu organisations led by the RSS, the government has argued that the facility is not a goshala in the first place.
“It is not a goshala but a rehabilitation centre, so the condition of the cows that are housed here is bad to begin with,” said Rakesh Sharma, additional commissioner, JMC. “Over the last few days, we have been working tirelessly and have deputed several officers. I have been here for the last eight days. We have removed all slush and muck and cleaned the water tanks.”
He said the death rate had come down. “Thirty-four cows died Thursday, compared to a peak of 65 during the last few weeks.”
Stray as well as domestic cattle are brought to the facility, the latter mostly for treatment. The facility, which houses over 8,000 cows, has 24 sheds, including shed No. 3 that is informally called the ‘ICU’ where the worst cases are treated. The facility has a biogas plant, a hospital, an OPD, a labour room and 34 post-operation wards. The hospital and the accompanying medical apparatus started functioning in 2012.
“Before that, the death rate here was 14 per cent. Since then, it has halved, increasing a bit during the past few weeks,” said P C Kankhedia, veterinarian and deputy director at the hospital. Dr. Kankhedia oversees the medical affairs at the facility, which he believes is very well-staffed.
“The accepted norm for such a facility is one doctor for 5,000 cows. Here, there are 17 doctors and 61 supporting staff for a total 8,000 animals,” he said.
Still, according to Kankhedia, it is unreasonable to expect immediate treatment of all the near-terminal cases. “They [JMC officials] ask us why we cannot operate on 10 cows a day. How is that possible? One, it takes four hours for one operation and we do four of them a day, and two, where do we keep them when there are only 34 post-operation wards?” he said. “Yet, we have managed to save 99 percent of the animals we operated upon. Out of 50, if we can save even 10, it is better than losing all of them.”
The need of the hour, said Kankhedia, is public awareness. “People say lofty things about cow protection but look at the waste they throw, which eventually finds its way to the cows’ rumen,” he said.
Next to the facility is the animal husbandry department’s state-of-the-art veterinary lab. “About 80 per cent of the cows brought here are anaemic, their stomachs lined with tough plastic. It is very difficult to save them,” said a lab technician.