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Cow vigilantes threaten survival of dairy industry
By Lalit Sethi
What is the future of the dairy industry in India? Will the zeal of the cow vigilante elements to protect the cow as the symbol of Mother India have a positive or negative effect on the survival of the cow in the long term? If the number of cattle starts multiplying rapidly because of a ban on culling them and their sale, will there be enough fodder for all of them in a decade or even earlier?

Fodder is scarce even today and the cost of unproductive cows and bulls is anywhere between Rs. 40 to 80 per head per day. Bovine shelters are too few for tens of millions of even productive cattle. According to a 2012 census India had 117 million cows, having risen by 14 per cent from 103 million five years earlier. The number of cows in milk has risen from 33 million to 42 million in those five years. This year's census might show an increase of cows in milk to about 50 million or more and of all cows to130 million.

If there is a ban on cow slaughter, could productive and unproductive cows total 200 million in five years? The number of calves could also be also 50 million in five years and there could be 75 million or fewer bulls in five years.

Looking at this scenario, Mr. Kirit Parekh, a former member of the Planning Commission, writes in the Times of India: "The economic consequences of banning cow slaughter could be significant. It is quite likely that over time cows may disappear from India". Perhaps this is too drastic a conclusion even though a cow "lives from 20 to 25 years. Presumably one who buys a cow (older than 10 years) takes it to a slaughter house. They make up one to three per cent of the cows and unproductive male calves. In the absence of culling, their number should be around 50 per cent of all cattle.

"If the milk producer cannot get rid of unproductive cattle, the cost of feeding them will be double". For economic reasons, even Chaudhuri Charan Singh as Chief Minister of U.P. (he was Prime Minister for six months in 1990-91) accepted culling of un-useful cattle as a reasonable process. He was acknowledged as an agricultural expert and one of his books was a prescribed text in an American university about 50 years ago.

The result of a ban on culling would be a steep increase in the price of milk and would land be diverted from grain to fodder produce ~ as the number of cattle in ten years could be between 360 to 400 million. Bullocks are already being replaced by tractors even as their number has declined from 96 million to 66 million. Would cow vigilantes make it too costly for gujjars and milk farmers to keep cows and buffaloes?

India earns $5 billion a year from buffalo meat exports, having risen 14 per cent a year since 2011, but this year they might drop considerably in view of the cow protection movement gathering momentum by the day. The sales within India might be twice or triple.

As the situation prevails today, several million cattle die of starvation in times of severe drought. Their carcases lie around in places like Bundelkhand in the south-eastern parts of U.P. and Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere in India. About a quarter of India's 600,000 villages are in distress because of natural calamities, be it a deluge or the big dry for some months in a year. The effects of distress continue for a long time for the farmers and their cattle.

It forces the farmers to take their own lives at the rate of 10,000 per year, according to Mr. Hosabale, joint general secretary of the RSS. He spoke of 100,000 farmer suicides in the past ten years, but later tried to correct his alarming calculation by saying that he was talking about the ten years of the UPA rule from 2004 to 2014 when he was perhaps told that he was hurting the reputation of the Modi Sarkar. Have the suicides stopped since the summer of 2014, though 2015 was one of the worst drought years? Floods are also a regular feature in large parts of the country during the monsoon or unseasonal heavy rains in town and country. The fate of the cattle is to be washed away as are some humans.

When farmers and dairy farmers cannot feed themselves or their cattle, they try to sell them off for a pittance. The farmers migrate from drought-hit areas when the monsoon fails to reach their lands. At times, wealthy money lenders and big landlords with heredity rights to large tracts have been used to impounding small holdings of indebted farmers and taking them on as slave labour in the age-old practice of "bandhua majoor", abolished by law, but may not have vanished.

Yet do the cow vigilantes consider themselves above the law and arrogate to themselves the right to take the life of anyone, including a dairy owner buying a cow or cows and transporting them? Have they become the self-appointed moral police as saviours of cows or buffaloes, even those beyond their milk yielding span of five to seven years from the age of three to ten, with breaks for conception and delivery of calves? Are the vigilante groups eager to promote vegetarian food and consider taking non-vegetarian food, especially beef, unpardonable?

Even as the RSS chief, Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, has called for a countrywide ban on cow slaughter, he has condemned violence by cow vigilantes and acknowledged that the "work of cow conservation should be carried out while completely obeying laws and the Constitution. Nothing should be done while protecting cows that hurts the belief of some people (referring to local complexities in States like Arunachal)." Such violence "only defames the efforts of cow protectors. ...There cannot be a law that says you do violence. They should be completely obeying the law and the Constitution". However, Mr. Bhagwat adds that a countrywide law banning cow slaughter will promote non-violence.

Yogi Adityanath, who became Chief Minister of U.P. in the second half of March, disallowed slaughter of cattle in illegal abattoirs and sale of meat in unlicensed shops. The result was a strike and meat supply stopped for a few days and closure of many abattoirs. Sales were resumed in about a week, but production has been reduced to 25 per cent from several million tons a year. U.P. is the largest producer and exporter of meat in the country.

Jaipur holds a cattle fair every year in April. On April 1, a dairy farmer bought a cow at the fair and was on his way home, but he faced a mob at Alwar and was attacked. He was seriously injured and died later. Cow vigilantes have been more and more active for three years now. But after the Alwar death, the Supreme Court's authority has been invoked to try and stop the threats and fear prevailing in several States?

On April 7, the apex court sent notice to the Union Government, five BJP-ruled State and one ruled by the Congress to respond to a petition demanding that cow protection groups should be declared illegal in view of their increasing violence. In October last year, the court had orally asked the States and the Centre for a reply to the petition, but apparently there was no response.

For two days the Alwar issue was raised in both Houses of Parliament and the Union Home Minister promised that justice would be ensured while the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs said that a first information report had been filed and a police team would arrest those involved in the Alwar murder case. The National Human Rights Commission has taken cognizance and sought an action report from the Rajasthan Government.

Even as the RSS chief has called cow slaughter a "vice that must be curbed" and demanded that a law is "needed to ban cow slaughter across India", he has admitted that people in some States in North-East took beef, but he expected "RSS workers in power to deal with local complexities and work in that direction" of cow protection. The Gujarat Government has increased the age of cows to be sold from seven years to ten.

Yet even some of the best gaushalas or bovine shelters are unable to protect cows through proper medical treatment or sufficient fodder. A Press Trust of India report on April 8 says that 152 out of more than 600 cows died in one of U.P.'s richest bovine shelters in the past five months for lack of adequate care.

—(IFS)

Lalit Sethi a Journalist of long standing and a commentator on Political and Social Issues.


News Updated at : Friday, April 14, 2017
 
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