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Posted at: Apr 15, 2018, 1:23 AM; last updated: Apr 15, 2018, 1:59 AM (IST)

Stray thoughts in Himachal Pradesh

Bhanu P Lohumi in Shimla
Stray thoughts in Himachal Pradesh
Cows at a shelter run by the Shri Kamanapurni Goshala Samiti at Totu in Shimla. Amit Kanwar
Bhanu P Lohumi in Shimla

If you are driving through narrow, hilly roads of Himachal Pradesh — some of which are parts of our highways — be ready for the impending danger: the stray cattle, scores of which die in — and are responsible for — hundreds of accidents every year. The situation so serious that the nascent BJP government has announced a slew of measures, including dipping its hands into temple tills under state government’s control to get more funds. The plan is to utilize 15% (around Rs 17 crore) of the annual offerings from 29 schedule temples across the state for protecting the local variety of the cow and building protection homes (Gau Sadan) for the cattle. There is more: the government wants to add to its kitty one rupee each from liquor bottles sold in the state. The total annual liquor sale revenue — one of the most lucrative segments — is around Rs 1,000 crore. The government expects annual revenue of Rs 7 crore, says Rohit Chauhan, joint excise and taxation commissioner.

Cattle complication

Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur sought to incentivize the measures in his budget speech: village common grazing land would be identified and land provided at a token lease of Re 1 for building Gau Sadan; women members belonging to Mahila Mandals would also be roped in; and panchayats which keep their areas free of strays would be given a cash price of Rs 10 lakh each.

Like in any other state of the country, Himachal identifies stray cattle with cows, though there are buffalos, oxen and others out on the roads. The fact about Himachal is it has allowed itself to be saddled with the strays: state’s artificial insemination drive to improve the indigenous variety has proved counter-productive. Cross-bred Jersey cows did not adapt to local conditions, consequently, the number of non-milch cows swelled. 

The state has already banned cow slaughter. Today, the state has 148 Gau Sadans. Of these shelter homes, 42 are run by panchayati raj department and one by the animal husbandry wing. The rest are run by NGOs, sheltering 10,414 out of a total of 32,180 strays. So, the state has 21,749 ‘homeless’ cattle, as per state government figures.

The state government gave up its ambitious project to implant microchip UID in the cattle to check stray animals when it found cost going too high. The project envisaged building a database of all livestock and pet owners by identifying each animal with a unique GPS-enabled microchip code with information relating to animal’s health, vaccination, production and reproduction. The project, started on a pilot basis, was estimated to cost Rs 33.37 crore.

Court steps in, chaos follows

Unhappy with the previous Congress government, Bhartiya Gauvansh Rakshan Samwardhan Parishad filed a PIL in the High Court in 2014. The court in 2016 directed that one gaushala should be constructed in each panchayat. It could not be implemented as the government cited paucity of land. It pursued a cluster approach: the government issued directions to various departments. The police were to ensure a complete ban on cow slaughter and sale and purchase of beef and book people perpetuating cruelty on cattle. The panchayati raj and urban development departments and all urban local bodies and gram panchayats were told to construct and maintain gau sadans. The Public Works Department was responsible for removing the strays from roads.

Animal care and treatment was assigned to animal husbandry department which was also asked to provide sufficient funds for Gau Sadans. All deputy commissioners were told to constitute coordination committees at district levels to mange stray cattle. The State Electricity Board and irrigation & public health department were to ensure regular power supply and water to Gau sadans. 

Petitioner Rajender Singh lists more steps from the high court: tagging the cattle, registration in panchayat, deployment of caretakers through rural job guarantee scheme, and fixing minimum price for fodder. “But the previous government filed a special Leave petition (SLP). If the BJP government has the will, it should withdraw the SLP and work in line with court directions,” said Singh. 

Other plans

Post court directives, the buck has stopped with the rural development and panchayati raj department. Governor Acharya Dev Vrat has also pitched in with ‘zero budget natural farming’, bringing in the agriculture department for stray cattle management. Plus, department of art, culture and language has also been recently roped in. The governor’s plan has it that cow dung and urine of one local cow could be helpful in farming 30 acres, besides improving the soil fertility, achieving maximum yield by using minimum water and ensuring remunerative price of their product. This way, farmers would not abandon the cattle after they stop yielding milk.

Earlier land for grazing was available, but with the implementation of Common Land Usage (CLU) Act, the land could be used for construction of schools, power houses, stadiums or any another infrastructure development scheme besides grazing. “This led to shrinking of pastures,” says Ram Rishi Bhardwaj, general secretary of Bhartiya Gauvansh Rakshan Samwardhan Parishad. “We are willing to set up village-level panels to take care of gau sadans, but the government should construct cowsheds in all panchayats,” he added.

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