We don't know how to deal with stray cattle, say farmers in the Gaon Connection survey
While 43.6% farmers said stray cattle was not a menace earlier, but now is, 20.5% farmers said it's an issue that needs to be addressed urgently
Rajpal Sharma, a farmer who lives in Bisanpur village in Uttar Pradesh, has his task cut out. He has to guard his fields 24X7X365 from an unusual enemy -- stray cattle.
He is not alone. In a survey conducted by Gaon Connection, 43.6% farmers said stray cattle was not a menace earlier, but now is. 20.5% farmers said it's an issue that needs to be addressed urgently.
The nation-wide survey was conducted in 19 states. More than 18,000 people living in villages were asked about various issues plaguing rural India. According to farmers, stray cattle menace was one of the biggest issues.
According to the 2012 Livestock Census -- which was the last one -- there are 52 lakh stray cattle in India. Their number has gone up in the past seven years. According to a news report published in the Washington Post on July 16, 2018, 52 lakh stray cattle are roaming on the streets in India. While in cities they cause traffic jams and accidents, in villages they destroy fields due to which farmers have to incur huge losses. The same report had mentioned there are 10 lakh stray cattle in each state.
Why do farmers abandon their cattle?
The farmers said they are forced to abandon unproductive cattle because they can't afford to spend money on them. "Earlier, people used to sell unproductive cattle in animal markets. But now that does not happen. Also, the fodder is quite expensive. We can't afford to buy," said Sharma.
According to him, the situation pertaining to stray cattle is so grave that he has even met agricultural minister Radha Mohan Singh regarding this.
Increased use of machines for agriculture and prohibition on buying and selling of stray cattle has led to number of stray cattle in the country going up.
According to Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering, which is based in Bhopal, 90% of farming these days happens via machines and contribution of humans and animals is 5% respectively.
Kawaljeet Singh, a farmer who lives in Barnala, Punjab, said: "Earlier we were spending a lot on electricity, water, seeds and fertiliser, but now we have to spend a lot on fencing our farms to protect them from stray cattle. Farming is no longer easy."
Farmers who can afford to do fencing are safe, but what about those small farmers who can't afford to spend so much? Stray cattle are affecting their productivity and hence income.
"I had sown green lentil last year. I guarded my farm, yet I lost 50% of my produce," said Gaurav Mishra, a farmer who lives in Gautam Buddh Nagar district in Uttar Pradesh.
He blames the rising number of stray cattle in India on prohibition to buy and sell cattle. "The situation went out of control when the government banned buying and selling of cattle. A man in my village died after stray cattle attacked him."
Ban on sale of cattle
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017, had kicked up a political storm after it banned sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets. It clearly stated that while buying or selling cattle, people will have to prove that they will use it for farming, and not for slaughtering.
Additionally, the rules stated that buyers and sellers will have to submit their identity proofs and ownership certificate, they have to get approval from local authorities and from veterinarians and they have to give assurance that the cattle would not be sold for the next six months etc. Many states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and the North-Eastern states had protested.
The Centre, earlier this year, has modified rules notified last year on the sale of livestock by removing the word 'slaughter'. It has also watered-down clauses on preventing cruelty and rules for markets in border areas.
No help from governments
Stray cattle menace is so grave that farmers have knocked on the doors of the Parliament.
Ravi Azaad, youth leader of a famer's union based in Haryana, said: "The Haryana government says a lot, but does very little. The state had promised to set up cattle sheds for stray cattle, but not a single one has come up so far."
He added: "There is not a single farmer in Haryana who is not affected because of the stray cattle menace. Each farmer slogs the whole day in his field and then at night the entire family is back at the field to guard it from stray cattle. The situation has worsened in the past five-six years and it continues to worsen."
Talking about stray cattle, the Washington Post report had said: "Cow is a sacred animal for Hindus living in India. Many states have banned cow slaughter. It's not banned in Kerala, West Bengal, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Sikkim and Lakshadweep.
In Goa, where it's not prohibited, according to the provisions of the scheme, that was notified in 2013 and amended in 2016, stray cattle are to be reined in by appointing an agency -- like the local municipality or panchayat -- to impound and maintain them.
As the stray cattle menace in Goa increases, panchayat officials across the state claim to be unaware of an existing scheme under the aegis of the department of animal husbandry and veterinary services to tackle the problem. So far, only three organisations have received funds.
A big issue in Uttar Pradesh
Stray cattle are a big issue in Uttar Pradesh. According to the state Animal Husbandry Department, as on January 31, 2019, there were 7,33,606 stray cattle in the state. The Yogi Adityanath government had directed to open cow sheds for these cattle and had allotted one crore for each of the 68 districts in Uttar Pradesh and Rs 1.5 crore to seven districts in Bundelkhand.
Gaon Connection visited one of the cow sheds near Lucknow. The situation over there was quite grim. The cows were not getting enough fodder or water. Some of them were so frail that they were dying. Crows were plucking eyes of near-dead cows. There are more dead cows in many cow sheds in that state than the alive ones.
The Uttar Pradesh government, in its third Budget, had allocated separate budget for protection of stray cows in cities and villages and to set up cow sheds to protect stray cattle. It had allocated Rs 61,260 crore under different heads. Of this, Rs 248 crore were reserved for villages. But the government is not taking any effort to see if the Budget is being implemented properly or not.
"They made the cowsheds, but no one came for inspection. Farmers still have to guard their fields from stray cattle," said Rajputan Singh, a farmer, who lives in Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh.
According to the Washington Post report, there are 18,000 sheds for stray cattle in India and there are 1,821 cow sheds in India. Even if we assume that the number of stray cattle has not gone up, still this number is small. For 52 lakh stray cattle, there should be 5,000 cow sheds.
Stray cattle menace in Bihar, Punjab and Jharkhand
In Bihar, along with stray cattle, farmers also have to deal with Nilgai and wild boars. Anand Murari, coordinator of Tal Vikas Samiti in Patna, said: "The farmers are also at fault as they just leave their cattle from 8 in the morning to 4 in the noon. These stray cows create a ruckus. When we go to the police to report this, they ask us to deal with the issue on our own. There should be a law to prosecute those who leave their cattle unattended."
The farmers and animal keepers anyway earn very little. They can't afford to keep unproductive cattle. Earlier they would sell cows that stopped giving milk or bullocks that were not helpful in fields. They could buy new cattle from the money that they got. But after the Centre imposed a ban on selling of cattle, farmers were in a fix. They then don't have any option, but to set them free.
Amit Kumar, 25, who lives in Gola village, Ramgarh, Jharkhand, said: "Here, people have been rearing cattle, but we never let them lose, not even the old ones. People here don't sell old cows because they think they would be slaughtered."
Laxmi Devi, who lives in Silli block, 60 kms from Ranchi, said: "We keep cows till we can. When we can't afford to, we sell them, but we never abandon them. We ensure that our cattle don't harm other people's crop."
In Punjab, the Progressive Dairy Farmers' Association has been operational since past 13 years. Around 7,000 farmers are associated with this. Most of the farmers have made the dairy business as their primary profession. The reason? They just didn't know how to deal with stray cattle.
Rajpal Singh, head of this organisation, said: "This situation is grave in Punjab as compared to other states. There are already many stray cattle in here. On top of that, farmers from Rajasthan also leave their stray cattle here. Many fights occur due to this because a farmer ends up spending Rs 15-20,000 on transportation of one cow. One farmer spends Rs 100 per day on cattle. When they stop giving milk, they become liabilities. To slaughter them is the only solution."