The cost of maintaining our 5.3 million stray cattle comes to about Rs 30,115 core per year
A lot of debate that we witness in the media on the cattle question these days suffer from the disease of speculative utopian imagination of a ‘cow-nation’ and relentless abuses for those beef-eating ‘others’.
Political debates over the question of our bovine stock has mostly been heavily polarising and mindlessly simplistic, notwithstanding exceptions like veteran Meghalaya MP Prof GG Swell's speech in parliament in 1996 when he appealed
all to not divide the nation between ‘cow-belt’ and ‘non-cow-belt’. The way that this debate gets conducted creates an echo chamber of cacophony, which should upset serious researchers. For if we sincerely read up the District Gazetteer on Rajputana, it tells us that even in this so called ‘cow-belt’ state, certain communities had practised no taboo against beef-eating.
Banning cattle slaughter, like demonetisation, may deliver political gains but will hit the rural economy hard
So let’s list a few important questions that are not being raised, let alone be answered with all sincerity.
The first question is: Agreed that the so-called ‘cow-protection’ sloganeering has been around for 150 years now, but the question that self-appointed Gau Rakhshaks must answer is: are Hindu attitudes of ascribing ‘sacredness’ to animals static? There was a time when bulls were revered and donated to local temples. In the 1870s, they were so many in numbers and so all over the place that an agricultural expert, who toured the length and breadth of India, had called them “standing religious menace”. During the first livestock census (1919-20) their number was a whopping 5.1 million out of 113 million cattle in British India. In the decade of the 1890s, the cow protection movement had protested against a court judgment that declined to grant ‘sacred’ status to scrub bulls. At the turn of the century, veterinary science experts in the colonial establishment were facing resistance to their castration-of-scrub-bulls programme.
However, by the 1930s, the attitudes were changing. NC Wright in his ‘Report on the Development of Cattle Industries and Dairying’ shows that “the number of animals castrated at veterinary hospitals and dispensaries and on tour have more than doubled during the last decade”. However, the progress was varied from province to province and Wright was concerned that “two-thirds of total number of castrations” were reported from just three provinces, with remaining provinces “showing very small returns”. Thus, sacredness being ascribed to breeding bulls had become a lot more elastic within four decades of the first all India Livestock Census. So, in 1966 there were only 0.4 million breeding bulls in a much larger cattle population of 176 million in Indian union. Has anyone who is espousing the cause of ‘cow protection’ ever wondered what ‘standing religious menace’ would have been posed by the so-called ‘sacred breeding bulls’ if their numbers had kept growing between 1919-20 and 1966?
Second important question is: Can institutions that emerged out of a notion of ‘kindness towards sacred cow’ (namely, ‘Gau-shala’) or as a municipal governance response to the nuisance caused by ‘stray cattle’ (namely, Pinjrapole) be modernised and would be allies in making our dairying shed away cruelty against milch animals? Firstly, those imagining the horrors practised by an Indian peasant who is rearing a ‘sacred cow’ not in ‘gau-shala’ but as a part of his farming household make ahistorical and myopic arguments when they accuse a small dairy farmer of cruelty against milch animals. Have they ever bothered to check what tabelas operating right in the heart of the cities such as Calcutta, Bombay and Madras were doing to the ‘sacred cow’ and her less fortunate buffalo sister in the 1920s? They seem to give no credence to the giants of our milk revolution story, Dara Khurody and Varghese Kurien, who rescued the milk production model by imagining rehabilitation of city milch stables and creating the Anand pattern of millions of small-scale milk producers keeping less than 10 cows.
Corollary to this second question (and presuming that answer is in affirmative) is: How many Gaushalas and Pinjrapoles are operating in India? Do we have statistics of what proportion of our union budget and state budgets go towards funding these institutions, in addition to generous donations from citizens? Also related is the question, how much we must spend if we wish to take care of ‘stray cattle’ population that is reported in the last Livestock Census (2012)?
An article in Down To Earth
, cites statistics from Gau Anusandhan Kendra, Mathura, which puts the cost of maintaining an unproductive cattle at Rs 60 per day. It then calculates that at this rate to maintain 5.3 million stray cattle would cost India Rs 11,607 crore.
However, a recent development in Tumakuru of Karnataka suggests that the cost of maintaining a cow is Rs 155.67 per day. A report in the Hindu
, “Farmers unite to get back their cows ‘seized’ by Gau-Rakshaks”
, states that a few dairy farmers have been running from pillar to post for close to a month to get back their milch cows that were raided away by gau-rakshaks to a gau-shala. Even after a judicial intervention – because not only were they beaten up and their milch cows that they had legitimately purchased from a cattle market in Erode in Tamil Nadu raided, police also arrested them on the basis of a false complaint filed by Gau-Rakshaks – that asked these Belgavi farmers to pay Gaushala maintenance cost at the rate of Rs 50 per day, the gau-shala has asked them to pay Rs 1.7 lakh in order to get back 39 heads of cattle.
If we apply the same yardstick to estimate how much will it cost to maintain 5.3 million stray cattle, the figure that we get is Rs 30,115 core per year.
Such is an unbearable sacredness of stray cattle population, even as Subramaniam Swamy proposes to introduce a new central tax under the name ‘cow protection tax’. The sooner we realise that such an unbearable kindness to cow as exhibited by self-appointed gau-rakshaks goes against the interest of an animal called cow the better.