As tears rolled down his face, septuagenarian Pratap Singh recalls the horror that visited him a few months back. His wife had become a victim of a stray bull, which pushed and threw her several metres away when she tried to scare it off from her sugar cane field at Kuiyan village in Shahjahanpur district in Uttar Pradesh (UP).
The old lady, who suffered serious injuries, died in the hospital a few days later.
“I had never imagined that my wife would meet her end this way,’’ Singh told DH.
The residents of Kuiyan, a relatively prosperous village, have been badly hit by the stray cattle menace. “Herds of stray cattle have destroyed our standing crop causing huge losses,’’ says Bal Govind Verma, another resident of the village.
Standing on the edge of his field, Verma points to parts of the field, which no longer has the crop. “It has been destroyed by herds of stray cattle,’’ he told DH. Chiranji Lal of the neighbouring Lalpur village echoed the same sentiment.
Similar is the story of Kishen Pal, a farmer in UP’s Farrukhabad district. “We have to be on the guard round the clock to save our crops from stray cattle…we stay awake at nights…many farmers have started fencing their fields with barbed wires. But it is very expensive,’’ Pal, a resident of Madhopur village in the district, said.
Diwakar Chaubey, a resident of Azamgarh district, said that his entire crop was destroyed by stray cattle.
The story of Kuyian, Madhopur and Lalpur reverberates in almost every part of the state. Farmers in the west, central, Avadh and eastern regions have similar tales to tell.
The stray cattle menace assumed frightening proportions since Yogi Adityanath government took over the reins of the state in 2017.
UP Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1955, provides for a rigorous imprisonment for a period which may extend to two years and fine which may extend to Rs 1000. The offense is cognisable and non-bailable under the Act.
The state government cracked down on illegal slaughterhouses. Though there was no ban on the slaughter of buffaloes, incidents of lynching and assault by the cow vigilantes in different parts of the state caused a complete halt of transportation of these animals.
The fear of the cow vigilantes was so deep that people even stopped taking their bovines to the vets for treatment. An old man was brutally assaulted in Balrampur district last year by alleged vigilantes when he was taking his cow to a vet.
In 2015, a Muslim youth was lynched to death in Gautam Buddh Nagar district on suspicion of cooking cow meat. Last year, police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh was lynched by a mob, which was protesting an alleged cow slaughter in Bulandshahar district.
Besides, there were also several incidents of thrashing of cattle traders in the state in the past two years.
Although it was difficult to ascertain the number of stray cattle, according to an estimate, there are around 15 to 18 lakh stray cattle in the state. The number of cow shelters is around 500.
The stray cattle menace not only poses huge economic problems for the farmers and makes travelling on the road riskier, it also has a social and political fallout. People now do not hesitate to abandon the cows once they stop yielding.
According to an estimate, over 50 people have been killed in different parts of the state from incidents related to stray cattle. Thousands of stray cattle have also died in accidents and due to starvation.
The bovines, which are abandoned by the people, are referred to as anna pashu (animals for which there is no grain) in some parts of the state.
Abhinav Srihan, who runs an NGO, Fauna Police, blames the people for this menace. “We have allowed production of so many bovines that we can not feed the dry cows. Earlier the farmers used to sell them but now they can not do that also,’’ Srihan told DH.
He said that the ban on cow slaughter and closure of illegal slaughterhouses were not answers to the problem nor could the construction of the shelters offer any solution. “Cruelty against the bovines has increased. These animals are kept in the shelters in horrible conditions and many die there from hunger and thirst. It is nothing but mass slaughter,’’ he said.
“These animals are confined to abandoned buildings. Sometimes stray dogs also feed on live cows,’’ Srihan said.
He said that the solution lay in decreasing dependence on cow milk and shifting to plant milk. “As long as we continue to depend on cow and buffalo milk, this problem will remain,” he says.
A visit to the villages also revealed that slaughter of the bovines still continued though in a clandestine manner. In one village in Shahajahanpur district, people said that they simply drive the dry cows and bulls across the jungles and from there others take them away for slaughter.
Cattle in schools
The menace had become a major issue in the just-concluded Lok Sabha polls as well. During that time, angry villagers had locked hundreds of stray cattle in government primary schools bringing teaching to a halt.
The farmers came out on the streets and held demonstrations against the government. At some places the officials imposed section 144 to prevent demonstrations.
In a bid to resolve the issue, the UP government has earmarked Rs 647 crore in this Budget for the construction of cow shelters in every district in the state. It also imposed a cow welfare cess to the tune of 0.5 percent.
The speed of construction work and also quality of the constructed shelters are far from satisfactory. The existing ones are overwhelmed by the stray cattle flow. The cow shelter in the state capital has around 10,000 bovines. “Around 100 cows arrive here daily. We have no place to keep them,’’ said an employee.
The same is the story almost everywhere. At many places the cow shelters have haudas(mangers) and but there is no arrangement for water supply.
Closure of the illegal slaughterhouses and cow vigilantism have also badly hit
the leather industry in the state. Many tanneries in Kanpur and Unnao have been closed after crackdown on slaughterhouses owing to shortage of the raw material (hide).
The state government had also ordered closure of many tanneries to what it said prevent pollutants from getting into the Ganga river during the recently concluded ‘Kumbh Mela’ at Prayagraj. The ban still continues.
The impact would be felt by the four lakh workers engaged in these tanneries. Already many of them have been rendered jobless.
Many in Jajamau, a locality in Kanpur, which was once a hub of hide cleaning, are now jobless as there is no supply.
“We are trying to resolve the problem. The government has taken several steps in this regard. The construction of cow shelters is being undertaken at war footing,’’ said an official here.
Given the magnitude of the menace, it appears highly unlikely that the people of the state will have any respite in the near future.