New Delhi: In Haryana, where cow smuggling is a burning issue and alleged violence against suspected smugglers often reported, groups of farmers have now served an ultimatum to the administration to solve the issue of stray cattle to protect their crops.
Dilbagh Mor (55) was patrolling his 14-acre farm in Narwana, in Haryana’s Jind district, lathi in hand, last week, when he encountered what he had dreaded and tried to prepare himself to combat — a herd of stray cattle. Mor yelled to his neighbours for help, but by the time they arrived, four acres of his wheat crops had been destroyed.
Mor was among the hundreds of farmers from Jind district who attended the Majra khap panchayat on 8 February where it was decided to serve the district administration an ultimatum — resolve the stray cattle issue within a week or the district commissioner’s official residence will be filled with these herds.
“I lost four acres of wheat crop and that is huge. It will affect me financially and there is no compensation. This is the failure of the administration that they are not able to keep stray cattle at bay. And we farmers are being punished for that,” said Mor, seething with anger.
Without responding to a query about why the stray cattle were not being accommodated by the administration, Jind deputy commissioner Manoj Kumar told ThePrint, “We have nandishalas (cow shelters) and gaushalas for cows in urban areas and rural areas, the panchayat runs its own gaushala and we also pay farmers to cultivate fodder.”
On the other hand, Gurwinder Singh Sandhu, pradhan of the Majra khap, said local farmers have “no other option” than to take matters into their own hands.
Sandhu added: “The administration has been ignoring us. Let’s see if something happens in 15 days after which we will have to step out and take the step,” he said, referring to the request by the district administration for 15 days’ time to apprehend all stray cattle in the district and move them to shelters.
According to Rajiv Jain, media advisor to Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, “To say the government is not doing anything, is wrong. We established gaushalas, and allotted funds. But now, people need to come out and support us to resolve this issue. Only then can we do something.”
Farmers are not the only one impacted by the problem of stray cattle. According to data presented in the state Assembly, stray cattle have also been cause of a large number of road accidents in the state.
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‘We don’t want stray cattle’
Meanwhile, Jind is not the only district in Haryana where farmers are seeking protection for their crops. In Ambala, a two-hour drive from Jind, farmers decided to register their protest against stray cattle in a most unusual way.
When the world was celebrating Valentine’s Day on 14 February, farmers from Ambala landed outside deputy commissioner Priyanka Soni’s office with their tractor trolleys packed with hundreds of cattle. Keep the cattle, they told the district administration as they sat on dharna outside the DC’s office.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhagat Singh faction) spokesperson Tejveer Singh, who was part of the group, said, “It was Valentine’s Day and so we asked the DC and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) leaders who claim to love cows to hug them and tie them to their houses. We don’t want them.”
Ambala district reportedly has around 12 gaushalas for stray cattle of which 11 are registered. But sources in the district administration told ThePrint that they weren’t enough to accommodate the stray cattle.
Troubled by stray cattle wreaking havoc on their crops, farmers in Yamunanagar too issued a similar warning to the district administration last week, saying they have no other choice but to sleep in the open in the middle of their fields to guard their crops from stray cattle.
Joginder Nain (50) said he fell ill after having slept out in the open for many days to protect his field. In his absence, his son would take charge. Such was the extent of his concern over the stray cattle issue that Nain decided to construct a house at the centre of his field to allow him and his family to keep a watchful eye on their crops. “Such is our life. The administration and the government don’t care. During voting, they always promise to solve the issue of cattle menace, but once they are in power, every promise goes into the drain,” said Nain.
900 lives lost to stray cattle-related accidents
Data furnished in the Haryana Legislative Assembly shows that farmers are not the only ones impacted by the stray cattle menace.
Stray cattle-related accidents claimed at least 900 lives in the state between 2018 and 2022, Animal Husbandry and Dairying minister J.P. Dalal had said in a written response in the Vidhan Sabha in August last year. According to his response, a total of 3,383 such accidents were recorded in Haryana in the same period. As many as 241 people died in such accidents between 2018 and 2019, with Fatehabad recording the most deaths — 40, followed by Ambala — 36, and Kaithal — 23.
The issue had been raised in Vidhan Sabha by Independent MLA Balraj Kundu.
As of 2022, Haryana had 700 gaushalas — a threefold increase from 175 in 2018.
A response to an RTI query had revealed in May last year that the state had around 5 lakh stray cattle. Sirsa had the highest number of stray cattle at 56,389, followed by Hisar and Sonepat.
The Haryana government had in 2022 allocated Rs 20 crore for infrastructural needs of cow shelters and another Rs 30 crore for fodder.
Sources in the government said cow vigilantism spurred by the Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan Act, 2015, may have led to a rise in stray cattle numbers across the state. The law made cow slaughter punishable with rigorous imprisonment of up to 10 years, and a fine of Rs 1 lakh.
“Cattle menace is an old problem. During the Congress government, these cattle used to be slaughtered. We stopped this after bringing in the law because of which the number of cattle has increased,” said Rajiv Jain.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
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