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Dead cows dumped near Lucknow raise questions about Yogi govt’s cattle protection push

Poor infrastructure, insufficient funds at state-run gaushala & problem of strays compounding Farrukhabad’s cattle woes, where a plot of land has become a dumping yard for cow carcasses.  

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Lucknow: It’s 6.30 pm. A dead cow lies on a vacant land belonging to the forest department at Farrukhabad village in Lucknow district, located over 20 km from the heart of the Uttar Pradesh capital. 

Three stray dogs surround the animal, picking away at its flesh, as crows circle around.

Gruesome though it is, the sight isn’t new: Villagers say that the plot has been used as a dumping yard for dead cattle for the last 7-8 years, with 2-3 carcasses thrown there every week. These carcasses, they claim, come not only from nearby villages, such as the neighbouring Palhri and Saidpur, but also from the state-run Hanuman Tekdi Gaushala, a cattle shelter. 

The dumped carcasses bring to stark light a big problem stalking the state: Stray cattle

Cow protection has been a focal point of the Yogi Adityanath government since it was voted to power for the first time in 2017 — the state government passed the Uttar Pradesh Prevention of Cow Slaughter (Amendment) Act, 2020, to make the punishment for cow slaughter stricter and even set up cow helpdesks in every district. 

And yet, as elections drew near, criticism grew against the Uttar Pradesh government for the intensifying stray cattle problem — so much so that Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised a solution to the problem during his election campaign for the BJP earlier this year. 

Two videos that went viral a few days ago illustrate the problem that Farrukhabad faces. One purportedly shows a villager, a daily-wager, carting a cow carcass from the cow shelter to the plot — located at a distance of about 200 metres — to dump the carrion there. The second video, purportedly shot inside the gaushala, shows two men loading a dead cow onto a cart.  

Farukkhabad pradhan (village head) Chhatrapal, and a worker from the Hanuman Tekdi Gaushala who didn’t want to be identified, both confirmed to ThePrint that the videos did indeed pertain to the cow shelter. 

Ram Milan Yadav, a former gaupalak (cow rearer) at the gaushala, said cow carcasses from Hanuman Tekdi were also dumped at Farrukhabad’s forest plot.  

“The stench is so bad that it spreads throughout the village,” Yadav said. “The villagers are getting a new temple built here. Two sadhus (ascetics) who were brought to perform rituals complained of the stench and left.”

Yadav said there was a protocol to deal with cow carcasses — they must be put into a pit with salt and medicines to help them decompose but none of these things was followed. Left in the open, the carrion attracts crows, dogs and, at times, even jackals, he said.

D.K. Sharma, the Chief Veterinary Officer in Lucknow, told ThePrint that he had been made aware of the allegations at the gaushala and that a veterinary officer had been sent to inspect it and submit a report.  

“It’s true that we need to be strict with them (the gaushala team and supervisor). They could be up to some mischief,” he said. “It has come to light that a cow was dumped in the plot because an excavator was not available. They have been strictly asked to follow norms to respectfully bury cows.”  

Shyam Nandan, chairman of the UP Gau Sewa Aayog — the state cow commission, a body entrusted with cow protection — admitted that the state gaushalas were fund-strapped and told ThePrint that the solution was to make them self reliant.

“I had suggested to the chief secretary that biogas plants can be set up in gaushalas and cow dung can be used for generating biogas and electricity just like the biogas plant in Varanasi (where methane is being generated and then converted to CNG),” he said.

What’s killing the cows?

Villagers blamed “rampant mismanagement” at Hanuman Tekdi gaushala for the death of cows.

Yadav said cattle at the state-run shelter didn’t get the requisite diet — they were fed dry fodder instead of green fodder. As a result, he added, cattle left the gaushala in search of green fodder.

Dry fodder comprises crop residue — for example, the straw left behind after wheat and rice are harvested. Examples of green fodder include forage crops (those grown specifically for grazing), grasses from forests and pastures, and cultivable wastelands. 

“Cows are being denied green fodder. Workers need to purchase the green fodder after selling the cow dung but that doesn’t happen” Yadav said. “They’re given water only once a day. As a result, these cows don’t get a proper diet. They stray out of gaushala at times, eat poisonous grass outside, and die.” 

Dr Sharma said cows need green fodder in their diet and gram panchayats didn’t have enough money for feed.

Gram panchayats arrange for fodder for the animals and get paid for it later by the government.

When ThePrint visited the gaushala Tuesday, it found sacks of green fodder lying outside its gate and dry fodder strewn all over the floor of the storeroom. 

Also Read: US ‘religious freedom’ report flags ‘cow vigilantism in India, attacks on Kashmir Hindus & Sikhs’

Poor infrastructure

Workers at the cow shelter, however, claim that the allegations are exaggerated: Instead, they say, the real issues are infrastructure problems such as the absence of a concrete boundary and a paucity of funds.

In addition, eight months ago, Hanuman Tekdi welcomed 48 new animals from another cow shelter in Raipur village. That gaushala, located at IIM Road, will soon be taken over by the Lucknow Nagar Nigam (Lucknow Municipal Corporation), a board at that site showed.    

This new intake at the Hanuman Tekdi gaushala meant overcrowding — the gaushala with a single manger and just two tin sheds now had to cater to 102 cows. This meant that only a few cows could feed at a time and that the older animals would invariably push aside the younger and weaker ones, workers at the gaushala said. 

“The older ones don’t let them eat properly. If there were another shed, it’ll help keep younger and weaker cows away from the bulls and the older cows,” Siyaram, the only gaupalak (cow rearer) at the gaushala, said. 

“Since there’s no proper boundary around the gaushala, the cows easily break out of here. The older cows and bulls fight with the younger ones, overpower them and push them out,” Siyaram, who only goes by one name, told ThePrint. 

The gaushala has just a fence instead of a concrete boundary, allowing cattle to stray into nearby fields.  

“The cattle come here to graze on our crops. Our efforts get wasted,” Krishan Yadav, a farmer who lives 500 metres from the gaushala, said. 

Chhatrapal said they have asked the administration for a concrete boundary wall but their demands have so far gone unheard. 

“We have asked for a proper boundary and another shed at least,” he said. “When the district magistrate visited a month ago, we asked for a [tin shed and a boundary wall] but nobody’s listening.”

Workers at the gaushala also admit to rampant wastage of dry fodder because of improper storage: the gaushala has a single storeroom for fodder, which is used mostly for dry fodder because of its easy availability. 

“There’s not much room to store fodder,” Chhatrapal said. “Additionally, animals don’t eat what’s already on the floor, especially when it gets mixed with cow dung.”

Abhinav Kumar, the village development officer at Farrukhabad and secretary for the Hanuman Tekdi gaushala, said the shelter was temporary and that a concrete wall could only be built when it becomes “permanent”. 

“A DM-level committee that includes the chief veterinary officer of the district, the district programme officer, and the district probation officer is tasked with deciding whether to make the gaushala permanent,” he said.

Also Read: Hungry cows, hungry farmers — UP govt policy has led to cattle menace Yogi didn’t see coming

UP’s stray cattle problem

Before Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath began ordering a crackdown on slaughterhouses in the state in 2017, unproductive cows — cows that were too old to give milk — and older bulls would either be sent sent to slaughterhouses or traded and transported to states where their slaughter isn’t banned, such as Kerala, Arunachal, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, and Sikkim, or even exported to Bangladesh.  

Following the government’s crackdown, reports of cow vigilantism emerged. This led to an unofficial ban on the trade in the state, further exacerbating the problem.

“Earlier, the hide of the cows would be taken away by some local residents from the village for free who would sell it off. They would only dump the bones and the remains here. Now, they dump the entire animal here and also charge Rs 200 [from those who want the carcass picked up],” Ashish Kumar, a villager in Farukkhabad, told ThePrint.

A government official admitted that the state’s stray cattle problems were a fallout of this suspension of cattle trade. 

“When the cattle are no longer a part of this chain now, they end up being abandoned by the owners who let them off on roads. They end up coming in the gaushalas,” a state government official admitted.

Fund-strapped gaushalas

The Uttar Pradesh government’s budget disclosures show that the state’s animal husbandry department has spent a total of Rs 1,369 crore in the last financial year (2021-22).

There are a total of 5,173 cow shelters across Uttar Pradesh — 187 permanent gaushalas, 4,485 temporary shelters, 172 ‘Kanha’ gaushalas (the largest type of cow shelters in UP), and 329 ‘kanji house’that currently house 7,14,506 cattle, state government data shows.

The state government gives gaushalas Rs 30 a day per animal for their upkeep, but workers say that’s hardly sufficient — an assertion that some state government officials agree with.

Dinesh Yadav, who’s the husband of Raipur village’s outgoing pradhan Ram Lalli Yadav and who was managing affairs at the village’s gaushala before it was closed down, told ThePrint that his cow shelter was frequently short of money. 

“Rs. 30 per cow isn’t enough. Usually, we managed by taking portions of fodder from smaller animals and giving it to the older ones since the younger ones ate less,” he said. “[But] payments would come late and we would usually purchase fodder, etc. on credit.” 

Lucknow CVO Dr Sharma agreed that Rs 30 is insufficient for an animal’s upkeep but said the law needed to be stricter for those abandoning the animals.

“The CM had said that those abandoning cows should be punished,” he said. “This needs to be implemented because the truth is that owners abandon their unproductive cows.”

Animal welfare activist and trustee of People for Animals (PFA) Gauri Maulekhi told ThePrint that the state government’s model of cow protection had failed but that major dairy companies should be made to pay for the upkeep of unproductive cows. 

“Rearing cows is now an industry. Why should a byproduct of such a commercial activity become the government’s problem? The big milk production chains should own gaushalas and look after the upkeep of the unproductive cows after they no longer give milk,” she said. 

Dairy companies, she said, artificially keep down the cost of milk production for consumers.

“The owner must be held accountable for the cows when they go unproductive and the cost should be transferred to the consumer. Milk production is an expensive process but costs are kept down artificially, which does not help the animal’s well-being,” she said. 

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also Read: ‘We’re finished’: Farmers, traders say Karnataka cattle slaughter law brought year of misery


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