Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has ordered district authorities to move all stray cattle in the state to cow shelters by January 10. This follows his government imposing a 0.5 per cent “gau kalyan” (cow welfare) cess on liquor and road toll collections, besides doubling an existing 1 per cent levy on the incomes of wholesale produce markets, with the proceeds to fund construction and maintenance of new shelters. These represent a wasteful deployment of government machinery and unnecessary imposts, at best, in response to a totally manmade problem. Today, UP and many other states are seeing an unprecedented situation of cows and bulls being let loose by angry farmers, tired of keeping vigil to prevent their standing crop from being devoured. They have even been herding and locking up unwanted animals in primary health centres, schools and government buildings.
The above problem is only due to public policy not adapting to changing times and being held hostage to religious dogma. Banning cattle slaughter makes no sense when bullocks are no longer required for ploughing fields, drawing water from wells for irrigation, separating grain from chaff or transporting produce to markets. When there are tractors, diesel/electric pumpsets, harvester combines and power threshers to do these jobs — and also artificial insemination to replace bulls — no farmer wants to keep male cattle. Even cows cease to have economic utility once they are 8-9 years old and do not yield enough milk to justify recurring fodder and feed expenses. Till recently, when cattle slaughter bans were only on paper, farmers sold their spent animals to butchers and used that money to purchase new cows. It facilitated a regular herd turnover, which sustained the dairy economy alongside the thriving, even if below-the-radar, beef and leather industries. The “Hindu” farmer and the “Muslim” butcher, thus, shared an unspoken symbiotic relationship.
Unfortunately, that social compact has been destroyed by gaurakshak vigilantes, emboldened by governments determined to implement a ban out of sync with modern agriculture. With no takers for their unproductive cattle, farmers are at their wits’ end — damned if they keep them, damned if they abandon them. The solution to this cannot be building more gaushalas. UP alone has a cattle population of nearly 2 crore, as per the 2012 Livestock Census. Even taking a conservative herd turnover ratio of 10 per cent, it would mean about 20 lakh “surplus” animals every year — which were earlier going out of the system, but are now getting cumulatively added and roaming the countryside as well as urban streets. A time may soon come when governments will have to decide whether to allocate budgetary resources for cattle shelters or schools and hospitals. Allowing selective culling in well-regulated modern cattle abattoirs is the only practical and sustainable alternative.