To address the problem of cattle languishing on the streets, mere deterrents and penalties are not enough. There is a need for concrete action not only from the government and administration but also society at large, to focus on issues of all stakeholders and find inclusive urban spaces for such animals, writes Ritambhara Singh
On a cold January morning this year, a cow writhed in pain on a street in Lucknow, letting out anguished cries which hardly anyone heard in the wee hours. TreeTake, a witness to the animal’s plight, sent out SOS multiple times to the department concerned, as well as to leading animal activists, but to no avail. By the time the civic team came, which was five hours later, the cow had died. Its owner, a local milk vendor, squarely blamed the municipal body, saying it had impounded the cow and set it free when it became ill. Trading and counter-trading of charges apart, the crux of the matter was that the carcass was removed, the milkman went scot-free, without even a fine, and everyone forgot about the incident. But moved by the animal’s pitiable death which could have been avoided with timely help, TreeTake decided to explore the issue of urban cattle in depth...
In Vedic culture, the cow was highly revered and considered a symbol of wealth, sustenance, and motherly love. “Agnirvai gauh” - this shloka from the Rig Veda equates the cow with the divine fire and praises her for her role in sustaining life and civilization. “Gavyam pavitram ca rasayanam ca, pathyam ca hridyam balam buddhi sya vardhanam” - this shloka from the Atharva Veda states that cow’s milk, ghee, and other dairy products are pure, nourishing and increase strength, intellect, and vitality. From such a place of centrality, cows have today sunk abysmally low in stature. While they continue to hold religious and cultural significance, many cows are subjected to neglect, abuse, and ill-treatment. There have been instances of cow slaughter (which is illegal in many Indian states) and proper care and facilities for stray cows are still lacking or insufficient.
On the other hand, there are organizations and individuals working toward the protection and welfare of cows. Several cow shelters (gaushalas) have been set up across the country and initiatives such as the Kamdhenu Yojana and the Rashtriya Gokul Mission have been launched by the government to support cow conservation and breeding programmes. The livestock census conducted in Uttar Pradesh in 2019 revealed that the state had a total of 25.9 million livestock, including both domestic and farm animals. Out of these, 19.4 million are cattle and buffaloes, 4.7 million are sheep and goats and 1.8 million are pigs, horses, mules, and donkeys. The census also reported an increase in the number of crossbred cows and buffaloes, which are bred for their high milk yield.
Stray cattle have always been a common site on Indian streets. However, the frequency of sightings and related issues of traffic congestion and cow droppings are becoming a cleanliness nightmare.
The prohibition of cow slaughter is also one of the Directive Principles of State Policy contained in Article 48 of the Constitution. It reads: “The state shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.”
Following constitutional obligation and moral uprightness, various laws have been enacted at the national and state level, sometimes to even cater to the vote bank. In 2005, the Supreme Court of India, in a landmark judgment upheld the constitutional validity of anti-cow slaughter laws enacted by various state governments of India. Twenty out of 28 states in India had various laws prohibiting the slaughter or sale of cows.
Law and order issue
The cow is sacred in India, while there is also a population that consumes beef. This has led to conflicts at times. The administration has to be vigilant to prevent any flare-ups. The state has also seen an increase in cow smuggling, with cows being illegally transported across state borders for slaughter or breeding. This has led to a rise in incidents of theft and violence, with many smugglers resorting to illegal means to transport cows.
Vigilante groups have taken it upon themselves to protect cows, often using violence against those suspected of cow smuggling or illegal slaughter. However, they are least bothered about the real issues that plague the holy cow. They are never seen taking faulty cow owners to task for letting them lose on the streets to eat garbage and get hit while causing traffic jams.
Stray cattle raid the fields of farmers to satiate their hunger since they are not able to feed themselves adequately while on the loose. There are no specific provisions to provide insurance for damaged crops in such a case. This has become a headache for the farmers who toil during the day in their fields and then guard these fields at night. Small farmers cannot even afford medicines or any other treatment for their cattle beyond their productive years. So, they also let their cattle go astray, contributing to the local stray cattle population.
Stray cattle obstructing traffic in prime areas to herding around the roundabouts, and blocking highways is a common sight, but ever since anti-cow-slaughter laws have been enacted, the problem has become more frequent.
Injuries and related expenses
Several people have been killed in road accidents caused by stray cattle in India. Many have sustained injuries, mild to severe, even causing permanent disability.
Conflict between the common man and administration
In many states like Tamil Nadu, instances of encroachment by cattle-rearers upon government lands for construction of cow sheds have been reported. Such instances will lead to a rise in litigation in the future. Recently farmers herded stray cattle on Badaun- New Delhi highway to draw attention of the administration towards their plight. After farmers dispersed, an FIR was filed against a few.
Legal aspects of cattle protection in India
The national laws related to cow slaughter are as follows:
# Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960: This law makes it illegal to kill any animal, including cows, in a cruel manner. Section 11 of the Act prohibits the killing of any animal by using any method that causes unnecessary pain or suffering. Therefore, cow slaughter is allowed only if it is done in a humane way.
# Transport of Animals Rules, 1978: This law regulates the transportation of animals, including cows, for slaughter. It requires that the animals be transported in a way that minimizes stress and discomfort and that they are given food, water, and rest during the journey.
# The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006: This law regulates the quality and safety of food products, including meat. It requires that all meat, including cow meat, be processed in a licensed slaughterhouse and be certified as safe for human consumption.
# The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972: This law prohibits the killing of all wild animals, including cows, without a permit from the government. It also prohibits the trade in wildlife, including the sale of cow meat. It is important to note that while cow slaughter is not completely banned at the national level, some states have their own laws that ban it entirely or restrict it under certain conditions.
The “Preservation, protection and improvement of stock and prevention of animal diseases, veterinary training and practice” is Entry 15 of the State List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, meaning that state legislatures have exclusive powers to legislate the prevention of slaughter and preservation of cattle. Some states permit the slaughter of cattle with restrictions. Southern states (except Pondicherry) have laws that allow slaughter of animals. Others, mostly northern states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have completely banned cattle slaughter.
# Gujarat: Cow slaughter is completely banned in Gujarat under the Gujarat Animal Preservation Act, 1954. For the first offence, there is provision for imprisonment of not less than six months, which may extend to three years with a fine not less than Rs. 1,000 which may extend to Rs. 5,000. The punishment may vary depending on the severity of the offence and the circumstances surrounding it.
# Maharashtra: Cow slaughter is banned in Maharashtra under the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976. However, the slaughter of water buffaloes is allowed under certain conditions. The imprisonment for the offence is for a term not less than one year which may extend to five years and a fine not less than Rs. 2,000 which may extend to Rs. 10,000.
# Karnataka: Cow slaughter is banned in Karnataka under the Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, 1964. However, the slaughter of buffaloes is allowed under certain conditions.
# Uttar Pradesh: Cow slaughter is completely banned in Uttar Pradesh under the Uttar Pradesh Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1955. The law provides for a maximum imprisonment for a term not less than six months which may extend to five years and a fine not less than Rs. 1,000 which may extend to Rs. 5,000.
In 2017, the Uttar Pradesh government passed the Uttar Pradesh Prevention of Cow Slaughter (Amendment) Act, which increased the penalties for cow slaughter and made it a non-bailable offence. The Act also provided for the confiscation of property used in the commission of the offence.
The state government also enacted the Uttar Pradesh Prevention of Cow Slaughter (Protection of Cows) Rules, 2020, which regulate the transport of cows within the state. The rules require anyone transporting cows to obtain a permit from the local administration and ensure that the animals are transported in a humane manner.
The state government has also set up cow shelters, or gaushalas, to house stray cows and prevent them from causing harm to humans or property. These shelters are run by local committees and receive funding from the state government.
Animal activist’s angst
As per Abhishek Dubey, a renowned animal activist from Lucknow, before 2017, with lax norms, slaughter was rampant, though mostly of buffaloes. In the same slaughterhouses, cows were slaughtered in the night surreptitiously. Smuggling was also high across the state and beyond. But apparently because of such discrete activities stray cattle population was less. Post 2017, there has been a stringent check on cow slaughter and even smuggling has gone down. Since public opinion was also in favour of such a ban, laws were implemented more effectively. However, when the numbers began to swell and created a public nuisance, the government introduced the concept of state-maintained gaushalas or cow shelters.
Gaushalas were to be opened in 20-30 acres of government land and labour supply was to be ensured from MGNREGA pool, additionally funded by cess on Mandi. The district magistrates had to ensure such gaushalas were made and stray cattle caught and housed there. The government ensured Rs 30 per day per cow was paid for bearing the expenses for their maintenance. Abhishek Dubey asked if Rs 30 per day per cow was sufficient, when in non-inflationary season dry fodder costs around Rs 12-13 per kg, exclusive of green fodder, and also if the government factored in pilferage and leakage in the system?
He said in 2019, Dr KML Pathak, a veterinarian and chairman of a committee constituted by the state government to give suggestions to make cow shelters better, submitted a report that clearly said the grant should be raised to Rs 100 per animal per day and additional funds should be generated by using cow dung. Abhishek urged that the government should implement the suggestion.
Other concerns raised by the activist were that earlier the stray cattle could at least feed themselves loitering around. But confined in these gaushalas, they were at the mercy of the gaushala administrator and other staff. The basic psychology of the animal had not been considered while formulating this policy of maintaining these gaushalas, that the more powerful animals among the lot like bullocks dominate the calves and older cattle to gobble larger portions of the fodder.
Additionally, the government was experimenting with a pilot project to artificially impregnate the cow post her pregnancy within 5 months when her milk production starts to reduce. This could be physically stressful for the cattle and instances of milk fever (fever that develops when due to excess milk production calcium leaches from the body of the cattle) might become frequent, he said.
Abhishek Dubey recommended discouraging animal-based agriculture and switching to plant-based farming. He said research should be done to reduce the difference between the birth and death rates of the cattle to prevent their numbers from increasing beyond the carrying capacity of the ecology.
As per Abhinav Verma, the chief veterinary officer of Lucknow Municipal Corporation, they get Rs 70-80 per cattle per day, but comparing the same with the standard Rs 110-120 per cattle per day criterion set by IVRI (Indian Veterinary Research Institute) it was much less.
A government veterinarian philosophised cow welfare with the epithet – Ten Tyakten Bhunjeethah- meaning one must live life and consume with a service oriented mind-set, rather than consumption-oriented. He said that the vets were engaged in additional duties like vigilance during examinations or election duty etc.
He also highlighted- on condition of anonymity- staff crunch and an inadequate number of cattle catcher vans. They were not even allowed to sanction an expenditure of Rs 100 as per their need. Whenever tendering was done, it was at the state headquarter level and contractors completed their tasks mostly on paper. And amid all this, if any cattle death was reported, the veterinarian concerned was taken to task.
He said vets should be kept free of additional duties and not be engaged in unnecessary file work for which relevant officials be recruited. Also, innovative funding mechanisms should be evolved to support gaushalas. Artificial insemination was the technology to artificially impregnate a bovine with the possibility of getting a higher number of female calves per cattle. However, it was not yielding the desired result due to a simple administrative issue: when due to a staff crunch, a contractually trained person handled the job of an expert, the error margin increased, he said.
Priti M Shah of Bala Foundation recommended that the government must involve third parties, like NGOs in the management of gaushalas. Also, cow dung can be used to make manure and hawan products and incense sticks, etc which required low capital investment. The large capital investment could be used to produce CBG (Compressed Bio-Gas) as per the recent directive. Also, cattle urine or gau-mutra could be used to manufacture paints of less toxicity. All of this, while boosting the earnings of dairy farmers and others involved in this value chain, could initiate a chain of sustainability, she said.
Civic body’s take
The Lucknow municipal Corporation has set up a 24X7 helpline and emergency line (9151055671, 9151055672, 9151055673) as per Abhinav Verma, chief veterinary officer, LMC, who said despite all efforts to control stray cattle menace, the owners tried to reclaim the impounded cattle which they let off on purpose in the first place. He also mentioned the sexed semen technology being adopted to increase female numbers, which would possibly cut the problem by a quarter in the long run. He also said interested citizens had been allowed to domesticate a maximum of two cattle per family under strict license requirements, like at least 100 sqft of area per animal, along with an affidavit committing to keeping the cattle only for personal use.