From a distance, it seemed as if they were trying to break into Parag Dairy near the Hathras-Mathura highway, repeatedly banging on its locked metal gate. Except, it was a group of desperate villagers from nearby Hardpur, trying to get rid of a truckload of stray cattle Wednesday afternoon.
They shouted and argued but staff at the dairy were firm that there was no space inside for more cattle — there were already 2,500 strays inside. These tumultuous scenes captured the essence of the growing stray cattle crisis in Uttar Pradesh.
On Tuesday, the state government imposed a 0.5 per cent cow welfare cess on excise items to fund such shelters after widespread anger in western UP, where villagers have started herding strays to schools in Agra, Aligarh and Mathura. A day later, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath ordered all District Magistrates to ensure shelter for all abandoned cattle by January 10.
Outside Parag Dairy, however, none of that had an impact.
“Sir, we request you to take the cattle in. We are troubled by the damage caused to our crops by the abandoned cows and bulls. Our farms have been destroyed,” read a letter signed by Sundar Singh Tomar, pradhan of Hardpur, which the villagers handed over at the dairy.
Speaking to The Indian Express Thursday, Tomar said: “Yesterday, we rounded up around 20 abandoned cows and bulls, and took them to the dairy in a mini truck. But we were unsuccessful and had to return. The Sub-Divisional Magistrate has called for a meeting with us on Friday.”
“The number of stray cattle has reached around 50 in our village, which houses about 200 families. It is getting out of hand. Our potato cultivation has been severely damaged. What do we do? There are no other designated gaushalas where we can put them,” said Tomar.
According to officials, the dairy, which stopped production in 2010, was notified last week as a cow shelter by the Hathras district administration as pressure mounted from residents. But it was packed within four days, said an officer of the Sasni police station, from where personnel were rushed to the spot to pacify the villagers.
“The Parag Dairy, spread across 150 bighas, is presently housing around 2,500 cattle. It cannot accommodate any more. We have directed the pradhans to make space in their villages. New gaushalas will be built,” DM Hathras, Rama Shankar Maurya, who had inspected the facility Monday, told The Indian Express.
From the dairy’s gate, the cattle could be seen roaming in the open inside. And local residents warned that the possibility of cattle dying due to starvation and cold could not be ruled out.
“The demand is intense. Ye kareeb-kareeb waisa hi hai, jaise aapke udhar nursery mein dakhila dilana (This is like getting admission for children to nursery schools in your city),” said Shyam Babu, 50, a potato farmer.