“Below Poverty Line (BPL) card holders get ration and other government facilities. Can’t we make a law to force every BPL card holder to rear at least one cow? If they don’t keep cows, they will not get BPL facilities.” This suggestion by BJP MLA Murlidhar Patidar came as members of the Madhya Pradesh Assembly, while discussing a ‘non-government resolution’, admitted that stray cows were raiding agricultural land and proving to be a menace to farmers.
The resolution, moved by veteran BJP MLA Shankarlal Tiwari, sought an end to the centuries-old practice of ‘era’, where farmers let loose their cows post-harvest to allow them to graze. The practice, members said, was adding to the number of stray cows.
While the debate occasionally veered towards cow protection and the supremacy of cow milk, gaumutra (urine) and gobar (dung), the focus was largely on the ill-effects of ‘era’ and the ways in which the problem of stray cows could be tackled. Lawmakers also admitted that monetary and commercial considerations, besides lack of fodder and encroachment on grazing land, were the main reasons why owners were abandoning their cows.
Patidar, whose constituency has the “country’s first cow sanctuary”, said, “The cow has lost the value it once enjoyed because people no longer see any monetary benefit in rearing cows.’’ Patidar, who made the suggestion on forcing BPL families to rear cows, said the sanctuary was yet to become functional but “so many cattle owners inquire about it that I get afraid. (Once it opens), 40, 000 to 50,000 cows will be released in it within 24 hours.’’ The sanctuary, spread over 472 hectares, claims to be able to hold 5,000 cows.
R D Prajapati, the BJP MLA from Chandla in Chhatarpur district, said he was afraid that if the menace of stray cows was not stopped, he would find it difficult to even enter his constituency. “My constituency has two problems: nilgai and stray cattle,” he said, while seeking a cow sanctuary in his constituency. “Let there be no development… just create one sanctuary and this will be the biggest service to farmers,’’ he said, adding “farmers run the risk of snake and scorpion bites but don’t leave their farms because they don’t want stray cows to damage their crops”.
MLA Divyaraj Singh, who represents Sirmour in the Assembly, suggested that cows should be tagged to establish their identity and that cows without owners should be given the status of “wild animals” and kept in enclosures in national parks or forest lands.
Veteran BJP MLA Shankarlal Tiwari, who moved the resolution and later withdrew it after being promised of a “permanent solution” by the animal husbandry minister, said the menace had assumed “alarming proportions”, affecting the very livelihood of farmers. “The government should come out with a law or rules to stop the practice of era,’’ he said, adding that animals that damage crops should be kept in kanji houses, with the government providing subsidy to run them.
Kanji houses are facilities where cattle are kept till owners reclaim them. Animal Husbandry Minister Antarsingh Aarya said a committee with representation from all political parties would be formed to find a permanent solution to the problem. Besides Aarya, the committee would have the agriculture minister and the cow protection board chief as members, he said.
Talking about the steps taken by the government, he said the cow sanctuary in Agar district was nearing completion and would be opened after the monsoons, followed by another sanctuary in Rewa. He said gaushalas and kanji houses for stray cattle were being set up at 107 places along the banks of the Narmada.
Senior BJP MLA Kedarnath Shukla said cattle rearing was “becoming very difficult due to the shortage of fodder and grazing land. Earlier, the practice of era lasted for a very short period; now it goes round the year.’’ Calling it “explosive information”, he said farmers pack their cattle into trucks and release them 10 or 20 km away, never to reclaim them.
Participating in the debate, Congress MLA from Pichhor, K P Singh, said the resolution was moved “not by the need for cow protection but by the difficulty cattle were posing to farmers”. He said, “The government that prided itself on welfare of farmers and protection of cows has been in power for 14 years, but has not been able to find any solution.’’