At a time when the opposition has alleged that the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh is more focused on cows than human lives, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath directed the officials concerned to make immediate arrangements for proper care of stray cows.
He has also ordered clearing of grazing grounds in different parts of the state from encroachments.
In a meeting with senior officials, the chief minister told them to set up a committee to consider measures for providing better shelter facilities for stray cows and directed Chief Secretary Anup Chanda Pandey to present recommendations in this regard in a week.
Adityanath said in case of encroachments on grazing land for cattle, immediate steps be taken for its removal and strict action be initiated against the accused, according to an official release issued here Tuesday.
Besides asking officials to make 750 cows shelters at the Zilla Panchayat level functional, the chief minister told them that proper fodder, shed and drinking facilities should be provided to the bovines both in rural and urban areas, it said.
He said the state government has allotted Rs 10 crore to each of the 16 municipal corporations to arrange shelter for stray cows, while Rs 1.2 crore has been given to every district for setting up gaushalas.
Funds for providing shelter for cows in 69 civic bodies have been sanctioned and the relative amount has also been released, but, so far, work has been completed only in Bareilly and Lucknow municipal corporations, Adityanath said.
The instructions were issued after some BJP MLAs told the chief minister that stray animals, particularly cows and oxen, were damaging standing crops across the state and were also a major reason for road accidents, an official said.
After the Bulandshahr violence on December 3 over alleged cow slaughter that left a police inspector and a local youth dead, Adityanath had ordered action against cow slaughter, prompting the opposition parties to accuse him of being silent on the inspector's killing and questioned his priorities.
His latest directive on shelter for cows too has drawn fresh flak from the opposition parties, which accused the ruling BJP of trying to milk cow protection for political gains in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Uttar Pradesh Congress spokesperson Dwijendra Tripathi said cows should be protected, but "humans cannot be killed in the name of cow protection".
"There are already defunct cowsheds in the state. The government should have renovated them instead of constructing new ones for political mileage," he said.
Samajwadi Party legislator Sunil Sajan said his party is "not opposed to cows" but is against the atmosphere that is being created in the name of saving the animals.
"We are not against cows, they should be given proper care and shelter and not left in the open to cause problems not just for people but also for the cattle which often get injured because of the barbed wire fences put up by farmers... there is no one to take care of them," he said.
"The value of cows is much more than all others... when there will be no one left, who will be called 'gau mata'?" Sajan posed.
Defending the chief minister's stand, BJP MLA Sanjay Sharma said, "Cow is directly related to our religion. It must be protected."
Actor Naseeruddin Shah had in a recent video alleged that in many areas "death of a cow is more significant than that of a police officer".
He was referring to the December 3 Bulandshahr violence when a police officer and a local youth were killed by a mob after cow carcasses were found in a village field.
One of the main accused, Yogesh Raj, the district convener of the Bajrang Dal, and some others are still at large. Opposition parties have alleged that the police have, however, been focusing on who slaughtered the cows.