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Last week in a rally in Unnao, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that a new policy will be introduced to tackle the stray cattle problem after March 10, when the Uttar Pradesh election results will be announced. In the fourth part of our special election series on UP, Indian Express’ Monojit Majumdar is joined by Harish Damodaran to talk about this issue, and the extent to which it actually affects farmers in the state.
Harish Damodaran is Indian Express’ Rural Affairs Editor, and a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR).
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Shashank Bhargava: Dear listeners, before we start this episode, we just wanted to have a quick word with you. A few days after we recorded our last episode, Ravish Tiwari, Indian Express’ Chief of Political Bureau who had been doing this series with us, passed away. Ravish had been diagnosed with cancer and had been suffering since the middle of 2020. We were lucky and privileged to have been able to do the first three episodes with him in his last days. Not only because his insights and grasp on up politics were rare, but also because he was a gifted storyteller and always enthusiastic to talk about politics. Going forward, we hope to do justice to this series in his absence. This is the fourth part of our Special Election series on Uttar Pradesh: a series of in depth and insightful conversations about UP politics. In the last episode, we had talked about the extent to which a long campaign and political freebies influenced voters. In this episode, we will talk about the issue of stray cattle: how it affects farmers and whether it is actually a poll issue in the state. For this Monojit Majumdar, who heads the Indian Express’s Explained section, will be in conversation with Harish Damodaran, Indian Express’s Rural Affairs Editor and a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research. Here’s Monojit Majumdar.
Monojit Majumdar: While campaigning on February 20, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of stray cattle. He promised that after March 10, the day when the results of the UP assembly elections will be announced, the government would bring a new policy for cattle who are too old to give milk and are often abandoned by their owners.
Narendra Modi: UP ke kisaanon ko chutta janwaron se ho rahi dikaton ko hum gambhirta se le rahe hain. 10 March ko aachaar sanhita samapt hone ke baad, nayi sarkaar banne ke baad, Yogi ji ke netritva mein un saari yojnaon ko hum laagun kar denge.
Monojit Majumdar: Harish, you have been travelling in Central and Eastern UP this past week. How big is the problem of stray cattle there?
Harish Damodaran: It’s definitely a very serious problem in those parts. Because in Western UP, I did not see too many farmers fencing their farms with all these barbed wire fences and all these things, you know. Whereas in Eastern UP, especially in Bahraich, Gonda, Balrampur, it was such a common sight, it’s very difficult for anyone travelling in those parts to miss out those barbed wire fences. I mean, somehow, you know, farmers trying it at all costs. And probably it has to do with the fact that that is a real cowbelt. Whereas in Western UP, it’s all mostly buffalo.
Monojit Majumdar: So did you actually see some stray cattle in fields?
Harish Damodaran:Yes, I myself spotted at one particular spot, and I counted about 13 of them, and they were actually preying on a mustard field,
Monojit Majumdar: A standing mustard crop?
Harish Damodaran: Absolutely, absolutely. So I tried to chase them, they were running away, but they came as a pack and they were just devouring the crop.
Monojit Majumdar: But Harish this has been a problem for quite some time. Right? I mean, this was a talking point before the Lok Sabha elections of 2019 as well. So, why did the Prime Minister choose to speak about this problem now?
Harish Damodaran: I think the numbers have been building up gradually. I saw the intensity of this problem first in Bundelkhand, in Jhansi, Mahoba, and that was back in 2017. And at that time, the problem was because that belt was going through a very bad drought. So there was a huge shortage of fodder and water. So I remember going around November-December of 2017 then, and I saw farmers were building fences etc. That was the first time I myself saw it, you know, and so, we are talking of that about more than four years back and that was during the period of drought, but probably in the rest of UP this was not a problem then because Western UP is largely a buffalo belt, there are hardly any cows and in Eastern UP generally you have enough rain, there is enough grassland and all these things. So it is not a scarce area, you know, so probably it was not so much of a problem then, but then I think cumulatively you know it starts building up. Let me give you some numbers UP has about say 1.9 Crore cattle and 3.3 Crore buffaloes. So 1.9 Crore cattle.
Monojit Majumdar: So Harish, cattle would include what all? Cows buffaloes, everything?
Harish Damodaran: Cattle is govansh, basically the cow and its progeny. So, that will include the cow the calf, the bull, the bullock, everybody I mean, we are talking of whatever both syndicates, so cattle and buffaloes. So, there are about 3.3 Crore buffaloes and 1.9 Crore cattle. So, if you look at say a farmer who keeps say 10 Cows typically he will replace say two cows every year and so, two cows go out of the cycle and he replenishes with two others. So, this is what they call as a turnover, you know herd turnover kind of thing. So, if we assume that if they were say 1.9 Crore cattle, that means every year even if you take say 10% Let’s not take 20% and 25% turnover ratio, the herd replacement ratio even if you take us 10% That means you’re adding about 19 lakh cattle every year assuming that these are not getting slaughtered or not getting killed. So, that means every year you are adding 19 lakh, 19 lakh, 19 lakh right. So, over a period of time these buildup, the laws against slaughter always existed on paper, but obviously, people were winking at the law, but the law became very effectively enforced probably after this government came.
Monojit Majumdar: So, as the elections are moving to the East, you’re saying that the problem of this avara pashu is becoming more pronounced and the East is where there are many more cows than there are buffaloes. So is the problem of stray cattle essentially that of cows and not buffaloes? I mean, is it that the buffaloes are less destructive by nature?
Harish Damodaran: No, it’s very simple. I mean, there are no stray buffaloes, the buffaloes anyway you allow them to be slaughtered, I think again, let me go back to the numbers UP has 3.3 Crore buffaloes, of which only 2.5 lakh are males, whereas, UP has 1.9 Crore cattle, of which 21 lakh are male. So, there are more buffaloes, but many more male cattle. So, we can assume that this 2.5 Male buffaloes are probably the natural population 2.5 lakh out of 3.3 crores that is all the requirements so, probably the farmers need only so many males and the buffaloes may be used for safe transport like in Western UP they call it as bhesan you would have seen those bogies, the buffalo bogies, which take the sugarcane, so they are just required probably for transport whereas in the case of the male cattle now, obviously there are too many of them you don’t need so many male animals at all, especially today.
Monojit Majumdar: So, but how prevalent is artificial insemination? I mean farmers can control whether they have a male or a female calf is that right?
Harish Damodaran: No they cannot. That is not based on artificial insemination. The artificial insemination is basically you’re replacing the bull with artificial insemination. You’re replacing whatever natural breeding with artificial insemination kind of thing. What you are talking about is sex semen. Okay through sex semen, you can to some extent they say about 95% chances of female being born rather than male. But there are hardly — sex semen is a very new technology and it’s not very widely prevalent. It is more expensive. So even today, it is basically artificial insemination using normal semen just that it’s frozen semen that’s all.
Monojit Majumdar: So the sex selection is not prevalent, are you saying, in UP specifically or anywhere in India?
Harish Damodaran: Harish, let’s dial back a bit here you spoke about having seen the problem first in Bundelkhand, and then after 2017, when the current government came to power and the tightening of the laws around slaughterhouses etc. So, from that time on, what is the genesis and how did this problem really develop across UP you said there was some drought, that was a very year-specific problem, but now we are talking of a region which did not have that problem. So how exactly did this problem blow up into this pan-UP issue? Anywhere in India because it’s a relatively new technology and that takes time. But I’ll come back to the male cattle. Male cattle are used either as bulls or as bullocks. Bulls are the ones which are required for breeding and as you said more and more you have artificial insemination, there is no need for male bulls. And bullocks are nothing but castrated bulls and they are basically the work bullocks. So, they are the ones who plough your field, they carry the water, they are used for transport, even for threshing, but today you have mechanical threshers, you have harvesting combines,` you have tractors. And even transport it’s either through tractor trolleys or in rural areas now you have people who have two wheelers etc right. So, basically what has happened is the male animal has become almost redundant, you know, you don’t need the male animal either for breeding or for work. So, when we are talking about you know 20 lakh male cattle, that is completely redundant and that is the problem I think in UP. No, it has blown up simply because every year you are adding — if you have 1.9 Crore cattle — every year you are adding whatever 1.9 crore and we don’t know how many of them go out of the system. So each year you are going on adding more and more. And where do you accommodate them?
Monojit Majumdar: Going out of the system? You mean to slaughterhouses?
Harish Damodaran: Yes, either slaughterhouses or maybe starvation. Typically, what happens is the moment a male calf is born, the farmer will basically starve it, you know, so it either starves to death or it goes for slaughter. And in today’s scenario, probably starving is more feasible, because it’s very difficult to transport cattle in UP today.
Monojit Majumdar: Correct, correct and Harish, what exactly is the economic dimension here at the level of the individual farmer? I mean, if you could give us an idea of what exactly it costs for the average farmer to keep caring for cattle, that it cannot use for say purposes of giving milk etc. What does it cost the average farmer?
Harish Damodaran: See, a typical cow or a male animal even if it’s not giving milk has to be given at least about four to five kgs minimum of wheat straw and plus some concentrates you know 1 kg of say, it can be a mustard oil cake, it can be cattle feed.
Monojit Majumdar: This is per day?
Harish Damodaran: Per day, per animal. So, five kg of bhoosa as they call you know, which is basically wheat straw depending on the season you know, maybe during the harvest season from say April till July maybe available, let’s say 7-8 rupees a kg, but right now, at this time when there is no wheat straw nothing it may cost 15-16 rupees and plus you have to give 1 kg of you know some source of protein because this is like you’re just giving bhoosa is like giving somebody just roti the animal also needs some dal and not necessarily mutton and chicken, but at least something this thing, you know. And plus you have to give some salt, water. So for the farmer, it’s not just the cost, he’s also diverting this thing which could have been used by the animals that are productive, if I have so much of straw, I would think in terms of hey, I want to feed my cows, which are giving milk or I would like to give my cow which is pregnant, and which is going to calve maybe, you know, in one month from now, or I would like to give to the young calves who will then grow to be cows, today’s calf is tomorrow’s cow. So the farmer is a natural economist, right? I mean, he keeps rationing he thinks of it. So in that circumstances, if he has to spend about 60-70 rupees per day, and plus diverting straw and cattle feed, which could have gone to his productive cow, it’s a no brainer, the farmer will just let loose that animal. And what was happening initially Monojit, which I think is, initially one farmer would leave the unproductive animal loose in the village. But then some other farmer also started doing so then the village had so many extra these stray cattle, then maybe some farmers would go and dump their unproductive cattle in some other village. Because if you dump it in your village, you’re likely to be caught. So all these things happen. So over five years, I think this is probably the payback time.
Monojit Majumdar: Yeah. So basically, then we are looking at 60 to 70 rupees per day per head of cattle for each farmer. Now, obviously, that is I mean, incomes aren’t that high. And obviously that is not going to be economically viable. And Harish, you said that when you were travelling in UP you saw farmers putting up fences and barbed wire and things like that. So that would also have a cost. Right? So is there a calculation for that also?
Harish Damodaran: Absolutely. I think most farmers they were telling me they use up to about one quintal of barbed wire and the barbed wire may cost you about 90 rupees if it is steel, if it is iron, maybe you know 70 rupees, but that will rust. So the investment is huge. And plus you need to put iron angle poles or maybe RCC poles, some people were using even some bamboo. So the cost of laying this I think generally the estimates were about something like 14 to 15,000 rupees one beega, of course, that will come down. It all depends, like if a farmer has several plots, you know, maybe suppose if I have five acres over some, say, three plots, so in each of these, I have to erect these kinds of fences and ultimately, it’s a waste of money, right? I mean, you’re using all these things. So it’s a waste of money if you have to keep those animals and feed them. It’s a waste of money if you don’t want to keep the animals and at the same time, you don’t want to see that your crop is not being eaten up by these animals.
Monojit Majumdar: So Harish, just to give us an idea, typically, how many years does, say a cow, live after she has stopped giving milk and stopped becoming economically productive for the farmer?
Harish Damodaran: See, typically I think a cow would deliver its first calf when it was say about 27-28 months old, that is the first calving and subsequently calvings happen every say 10 months, 11 months you know because you also have to consider a postpartum rest. So I would say that no farmer keeps a cow beyond say five to six calvings, okay. And by then she’s already seven to eight years old, and she possibly has another five to six years to live. So beyond that, it’s very difficult to maintain because the yields will fall so much, typically the milk yields would be the highest maybe in the second and third lactation, and by the time 6th all, it completely falls. So that’s what I’m saying. So the farmer keeps replacing his herd. So every one year, he may dispose of, say two cows and inducts two in its place, you know. So that’s how the farmer is able to maintain and you know, sell milk around the year. So being able to replace this turnover is very important if you are a dairy farmer. And if you are unable to do it, then your entire economics goes for a toss.
Monojit Majumdar: So then, from what you’re telling us Harish this calculation, for the BJP, then the problem is to find a way to square its political signalling around cow protection and Hindutva with the economic disruption that this signalling is causing and the kind of restiveness in the rural areas that it’s causing, which kind of probably provoked the Prime Minister to make this promise. So how do you see this dichotomy playing out in the months ahead?
Harish Damodaran: Well, I think politically, definitely, BJP has almost sort of fallen into its own trap. And I think one way out, you know, where you can reconcile farm economics with religious belief is maybe they can allow a slaughter of male cattle because we are talking of Gau Mata not Gau Vansh. So because the cow is the mother and since she’s a mother, I want to take care of her even in old age, you know, so that is the kind of a sentiment.
Speaker: Gau mata ki jai bolne se gau mata ka sangathan nahi ho payega. Gau mata ki jai to hum bole, lekin gau mata ki sangathan aur samarthan ke liye bhi imandaari se star pe biyaas karen, to gau mata tabhi bacch payegi aur tabhi aage badh payegi.
Harish Damodaran: But I don’t know whether this kind of sentiment exists for the male animals so you can maybe have a policy where you keep the female animals in a Gaushala and that’s possible but it’s impossible to keep a bull in a Gaushala they have they have to violent it’s impossible. I mean, as they call the saand, you know, it’s impossible to keep a bull in any gaushala and in UP we are talking of so many about 20 lakh male cattle I mean, how do you keep them in a gaushala, you will have to barricade you know, you’ll have to create special and plus they require more right? I mean, you may have to give them about say 10 kgs of bhoosa you know if it was say four to five kgs for the female, they will have to be given the thing so it’s impossible to do it. So I would say that the best way to do it, as a start, is probably by allowing slaughter of male cattle and maybe in the second round what can be done is allow slaughter of crossbred cows, since they anyway carry whatever some foreign blood we know whether Jersey whether it is Holstein or Brown Swiss. So these are not desi. So you can have a policy where you banned slaughter of your desi breed who are the real gaumata? I mean, whereas these are not the real gaumatas.
Monojit Majumdar: Yeah, that’s a very interesting solution you have suggested Harish. One more thing I wanted to ask you in the context of what the Prime Minister said, he said something like we will create a situation wherein farmers will make money from gobar as well. Now traditionally, we know that cow dung cakes are used in small households, how do you think that can be an economic solution to raising farmers incomes etc.
Harish Damodaran: Again, that is another problem. See, the cowdung was earlier used as a dung cakes for cooking, but Narendra Modi has given everyone LPG connection. So what do I do with the dung cakes? Right? I mean, so it’s a very strange kind of situation. Right? And same with the case of see, earlier the cow was a source of fertiliser, right. But today, you the farmer uses urea, diammonium phosphate, and potash and all these things. So I don’t think you can have those kinds of solutions beyond a point and the farmers who want to whatever use gobar, etc, they can anyway do it. They don’t need to do it, but I don’t think it is feasible to collect, to procure gobar from so many cows and from so many farmers it becomes very unviable. You know, it is not milk, you can do it with milk but collecting gobar and then you know aggregating it. So it’s a very messy thing. How do you transport it? So I think we have to accept the fact that we have to allow slaughter and I said what I’m proposing is a two part solution, the first part you have male, this thing and the second one is you love the cross bred cows to the slaughter and that will help the cause of dairy because dairy anyway is only with crossbred cows. And you can have a very strict policy with regard to the indigenous breed the girs the sahiwals, who are our true Holy cows. I mean, the true Gau mata.
Monojit Majumdar: And Harish this problem of awaara pashu in the reporting that you have done from the field. How are people reacting to this problem? What did you hear people say?
Harish Damodaran: See from what I could make out talking to the farmers, they had no inkling of the problem this would cost say about five years ago like one farmer was telling me, “Paanch saal pehle unhonee bola gau hatya band karo, to humne bhi bola gau hatya band karo, but we never realised what it would cost” because I suppose because in the parts where I travel, there is no shortage of fodder and those kinds of things because it rains enough there is enough water, you have the rivers etc. So I don’t think fodder has been a problem there, unlike in Bundelkhand. So farmers were quite indulgent, you know, theek hai, fine, we can manage with the cow. But I think the law of the numbers have caught up, as I said, every year you are adding more and more, and today it has become impossible in a village anywhere starting from say about 20, going up to 50-60 of these, and these are bulls, you know, these are not cows. So they are very aggressive. So I think this has become probably I mean, from what I could make out maybe because I was not travelling in the cities, but definitely in the rural areas where I saw, it was a number one issue. And if it was not such a big issue, I’m sure neither Mr. Modi nor Mr. Yogi would have talked about this.
Monojit Majumdar: So I hope someone in government is listening to you Harish this podcast. Thank you very much for explaining all of this to us. Four phases of election in UP are now over. Voters in the fifth phase will be voting on Sunday, February 27. See you again soon.
Shashank Bhargava: You were listening to a special election series by The Indian Express. This show was produced by me, Shashank Bhargava: and edited and mixed by Suresh Pawar. If you like the show, then do subscribe to us and leave us a review on your favourite podcast app. You can also tweet us at @expresspodcasts and write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org