PRIME Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks on running “shops” in the name of the cow strike more than a chord in Rajasthan where Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje is facing a piquant situation. “Undesirable elements” claiming to be gau rakshaks are encroaching upon state government land and then demanding that these be allotted to them for setting up a gaushala to shelter and feed cows and their male progeny.
Many such applications are pending with District Collectors across the state and the Revenue Department is closely scrutinising these claims.
The state, with the largest land mass in India, already has 1,606 registered gaushalas that house 5 lakh cows and their male progeny.
Over the last three years alone, 305 gaushalas have been registered with the Gopalan Department. The department was initially set up as a directorate in 2014. There are no official estimates of stray or abandoned cows but their stock could add another 20 per cent to existing numbers.
In an interaction with The Indian Express, Vasundhara Raje said: “It is a huge challenge for us. It is a fact that the number of these animals has been increasing. There are different difficult demands before the state from various quarters but the state has finite resources both in terms of land and money.”
In the state, trustees of gaushalas that are generally set up as charitable institutions, are registered under The Rajasthan Gaushala Act, 1960. Raje has made registration of gaushalas mandatory for financial support during a famine. The department denies registration unless these gaushalas possess land.
Gaushalas get Rs 70 a day for a large animal and Rs 35 a day for a small animal during a famine for fodder and water. In 2015-16, the state distributed Rs 219 crore for cows and their male progeny in 29 famine-affected districts.
Officials in Rajasthan’s department of animal husbandry pointed out there were at least 200-300 applications pending at various stages for registration as gaushalas.
But this has hit a wall because the applicants either don’t have clear land titles or have less than 50 animals. “We are noticing a trend where some claimants have herded stray cattle and now want to set up a gaushala either on encroached land or a gauchar,” an official said. In Rajasthan, every village has a gauchar i.e. pastoral land, where cattle graze for fodder.
Shailesh Sharma, who was handling the Gopalan Department until a couple of months ago, said a decade ago, the state could allot gauchar land for a gaushala. A 2011 Supreme Court order put an end to this. Forest land, too, can’t be allotted as per law. The government owns land, but given the nature of claimants, not much allotment has happened over the last five years.
On July 8 this year, the animal husbandry department asked every village or block to undertake a physical verification of the cows and their male progeny in their gaushalas. “They were given a 15-day deadline. But we will give them more time,” said Rajendra Kishen, Director, Gopalan Department.
Not only does the state seek to know the number of cows, and those of male progeny, it’s looking for data on quantum of milk produced and sold by the gaushalas and the fodder grown. “This will help us prevent leakage of funds,” another official said.
But the bigger problem is the increasing number of non-productive animals. Male progeny of bovine animals and cows yielding very less or no milk are often abandoned by farmers. Since cow slaughter is banned by the state and even migration between districts is highly restricted, the numbers of the abandoned have grown over the years. “It is estimated that the male progeny accounts for roughly 40 per cent of the total number of animals in the state,” said the official.
This hits farmers. “These animals roam freely and destroy crops. So farmers want their land to be fenced and the state is struggling to find ways. There are schemes to create boundaries where if the land owner contributes 30 per cent of the cost of fencing, the balance is provided by the state,” an official said. “But the state has limited resources and more compelling spending needs,” the official pointed out.
To tackle this, the state has sought proposals from well-established gaushalas to adopt stray animals. “But this also means additional strain on the exchequer,” a senior official said.
The BJP has itself to blame. Ahead of the 2014 Assembly elections, the party had promised a separate ministry for cow shelter to take care of stray cattle. “Now, setting up cow sanctuaries is easier said than done. It is very difficult to find land for such shelters. Even if government identifies land, developing it, constructing cow sheds and daily management of the animals is an onerous task,” said an animal husbandry department official dealing with gaushalas for over a decade.