A month after returning to power in Rajasthan, the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress is keen on reclaiming the cow in the state from the previous BJP government, which had sought to own the issue by announcing the country’s first dedicated Gopalan Ministry.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Pramod Bhaya, Minister for Gopalan, said: “In all our shastras, it has been said all gods and goddesses reside in gaumata. But probably no other animal is facing as much difficulty as the cow today. Stray cattle in a very big issue at present and it is our moral responsibility to make necessary arrangements for them and to also promote them.”
Bhaya, who said he didn’t eat food without first keeping aside a share for cows, has also raised the stray cattle issue at a recent Cabinet meeting. He now plans to hold a conference of all registered cow shelters in Jaipur soon.
“After cows stop producing milk, they are abandoned. We are hoping to raise this question with all stakeholders in the conference and seek suggestions from social workers and sants,” he said.
Indications that the Congress would compete with the BJP on cows were clear in the party’s manifesto before the Assembly polls. The Congress manifesto, titled Jan Ghoshna Patra promised to increase grants for cow shelters, ensure state-of-the-art facilities and also pledged to solve the problem of stray cows and conserve local breeds.
Asked about the sustainability of government-funded gaushalas and cow welfare given the debt burden, he said, “If somebody’s will power is strong then they are bound to be successful. The first scheme of providing grants to cow shelters started when Gehlotji was the chief minister in his last tenure. It is also his thought that good work should be done for the welfare of cows by the current government.”
Apart from appointing carving out the Gopalan Ministry, the BJP had also levied a 20 per cent surcharge on liquor to fund cattle welfare. Bhaya did not comment on whether the Congress government would continue the surcharge. “This not a matter related to me and I won’t be able to comment on this,” he said.
In a state where at least three Muslim men, including dairy farmer Pehlu Khan, were lynched on suspicion of smuggling cows, Bhaya was silent on cow vigilantism. “This is an issue related to law and order and I don’t want to comment on this. But it is my belief that since that I have been entrusted the responsibility of this department, we will do good work,” he said.
Asked about allegations of land grabbing by groups or individuals in the guise of building cow shelters, he said, “If someone is misusing this issue in the name of religion and takes the law in hand, whoever the person is, we condemn him. Our government is compassionate and if any such matter comes to our notice, we will definitely take legal action. If we receive some complaints on this, we will definitely investigate.”
According to Congress sources, while the Vasundhara Raje government had set up the Gopalan Ministry, Gehlot had set up of a Directorate of Gauseva in his 2013 state budget. Then, he had also announced a one-time grant of Rs 145 crore for registered cow shelters in the state. Of this, Rs 83.8 crore was spent on helping 801 state cow shelters to provide fodder subsidy for the animals in the months of April, May and June.