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Why Gujarat hasn’t been able to take the cow by its horns

Last week, BJP leader Nitin Patel got injured as a stray cow ran through a rally he was attending, putting the spotlight back on a longstanding problem -- cattle on the roads

On March 31, after a debate that continued well past midnight, the Gujarat Assembly passed a Bill in the Assembly to license, regulate and prohibit cattle movement in urban areas of Gujarat. (Express file)

On Saturday, August 13, former deputy chief minister and BJP leader Nitin Patel got injured while participating in a tiranga yatra at Kadi in Mehsana district as a stray cow ran through the crowd. Patel suffered a fracture in his left knee and was advised to rest for three weeks. The incident put the spotlight back on the debate on stray cattle and the state BJP government’s reluctance in tackling it an election year.

On March 31, after a debate that continued well past midnight, the Gujarat Assembly passed a Bill in the Assembly to license, regulate and prohibit cattle movement in urban areas of Gujarat. The Opposition Congress, however, refused to support the Bill while blaming the BJP government for using “cows for votes”.

However within days of the passage of The Gujarat Cattle Control (Keeping and Moving) in Urban Areas, 2022, on April 7, the government announced that its implementation would be kept in abeyance till the objections of the Maldhari community were addressed. The Maldharis are a cattle-rearing community in the business of milk supply. Constituting 10 per cent of the population, the Maldharis are among the OBC communities that the BJP has been trying to woo for votes.

The law that’s now on hold would have made it mandatory to obtain a licence from a local authority (municipal corporation or municipality) to keep cattle. Though the law was meant to check the stray cattle menace, with the ‘statement of objects and reasons’ of the Bill mentioning the threat they pose to those riding two-wheelers, the Maldharis objected saying the conditions in the law would push them out of the city limits and out of business.

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“Given the vote bank it could hurt, both the BJP and Congress are now reluctant to support the law, leaving it to the courts to take up the issue of stray cattle on the roads,” said a government official.

The Gujarat Provincial Municipal Corporation Act (GPMC) that governs the eight municipal corporations in the state and the Gujarat Municipalities Act already provide for regulation of stray cattle through their respective Cattle Nuisance Control Departments (CNCD). However, to appease the pastoral community, the municipal corporations that impound stray cattle and which are supposed to release them after imposing a penalty, have been releasing impounded cattle for free every Janmashtami festival. Some municipal corporations decided to stop the Janmashtami practice only after a petition objecting to it was filed in the Gujarat High Court in 2018.

Acting on the Public Interest Litigation (PIL), the High Court issued two orders with a number of directions to the state on controlling stray cattle that have led to a series of accidents, injuries and even deaths on the roads of Gujarat’s cities and towns.

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The court said municipal corporations and the state government should remove stray cattle from public roads because they not only hinder “the smooth and safe movement of traffic but are also very dangerous and sometimes fatal…”

The court directed the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) to relocate stray cattle to gaushalas or shelters and said these animals “shall have a tag number tied around their necks and the tag number should be indicative of the name and address of the person to whom the animal belongs so that there will be no difficulty in tracing their owners”.

It was in its reply to the court that the AMC first brought up the government’s proposal to enact a special law on the lines of Maharashtra to tackle stray cattle on roads.

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Four years later, the government came up with the Cattle Control Bill, which was passed by a majority in the Assembly — until it ran into trouble with the Maldharis. Raghu Desai and Lakha Bharwad, Congress MLAs from the Maldhari community took the lead in protesting against the Bill.

Following the protests, the BJP, which didn’t want another storm ahead of the elections that are due in a little over six months, decided to put the law on hold. On April 4, Gujarat BJP Chief C R Paatil announced that he had requested Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel to reconsider and withdraw the proposed law and that the existing laws were enough to control cattle.

Following the decision to put the Bill in abeyance, a top source in the government had said on condition of anonymity, “The government should not have paid so much attention to the Maldharis’ protest. The Bill was drafted after consultations at multiple levels – at the ministerial level, Chief Minister, and the Cabinet. So many people are suffering because of this cattle menace. People are frustrated. Even the High Court asked us to frame a law. Do you see cattle on the roads in Mumbai? No, because a similar law is in force in Maharashtra.”

Meanwhile, a contempt petition in the High Court has said that the state government “willfully disobeyed” its orders relating to road and traffic congestion, while mentioning stray cattle as among the causes for the bottlenecks. The petition is scheduled to come up for hearing on September 5.

First published on: 15-08-2022 at 06:07:01 pm
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