The Uttar Pradesh government has a peculiar problem affecting employee morale. The state veterinary department officials and staff are demanding extra renumeration for the risk they are facing while rounding up stray cattle across the most populous state.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has given an ultimatum that all the stray cows, let loose in the cities and towns of the state by aggrieved cattle owners, should be rounded up and put into temporary cow shelters. Since the state administration has taken the ultimatum as an emergency measure, staff from municipalities, corporations, health and veterinary departments have been drafted by the district magistrates. More than a hundred employees have suffered injuries like cuts and even fractures while handling the animals which are not easy to corral. While more than 50,000 stray cattle have been rounded up in the state, it is estimated the number of cows on the streets and in the villages is more than five lakhs.
The cows are released by desperate farmers who cannot afford to feed and shelter them, as the animals are ageing and are not yielding milk. Only healthy, productive cows are kept by farmers. The issue of stray cattle arose as the entire market for the sale of unwanted cows has collapsed in the state. Farmers first released the cows out of their homes and farms, but found the animals were destroying crops in the neighbourhood. This led to farmers demanding that the government honour a promise of Adityanath that the state government will take care of cows and will not allow even a single one of them end up in the slaughterhouse. But the problem became a gigantic one when farmers started taking herds of unwanted cows into schools and hospitals, which have large compounds where the unwanted bovines could be locked up. At two district headquarters there were attempts to take cows into the district magistrate's office.
Adityanath has said the state has enough money and land to construct more than 5,000 cow shelters at record speed, so that not a single stray cow is left behind. But officials in the state secretariat at Lucknow are aghast at the costs involved. Currently, a drive to redress the stray cow menace is focussed on Prayaagraj, where the Ardh Kumbh Mela will be on till early March, and prime minister's Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi, where the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas will be held.
But the cow menace is not confined to Uttar Pradesh. The Congress government of Rajasthan is faced with the problem of stray cows across the sprawling state. As the pace of construction of cow shelters has been slow during the previous BJP government, now chief minister Ashok Gehlot has promised prizes for private efforts in building and maintaining cow shelters. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal who thinks neighbouring Haryana is a good political grazing ground, has criticised the BJP counterpart Manohar Lal Khattar of failure to maintain enough cow shelters, and now has embarked on an inspection of cow shelters in Lok Sabha constituencies which are considered favourable to the Aam Aadmi Party. Khattar has said farmers of Haryana will retaliate for any meddling by Delhi's urban politicians and the state BJP is planning a cow rally against Kejriwal.
Meanwhile, economists are warning that farmers, who are not able to sell cows in the market, would find it difficult to find enough finance for buying young calves for rearing, and that there may be an adverse impact on agrarian livelihoods. Already farmers organisations in Uttar Pradesh are demanding that every farmer should be paid a compensation for surrendering aged cows.
The union ministries of agriculture and environment have however washed their hands off saying cow protection is a state subject and it is for the state governments to come up with their own solutions. But the cow could be an electoral issue, if its maintenance pinches the pocket of farmers.