Bhopal: The debt-ridden Madhya Pradesh government is all set to levy a ‘cow cess’ for protecting the bovine, with 2,000 cowsheds also on the way.
“The Government is working on a proposal to impose a minor tax on the public to raise money for the conservation and protection of cows and for the upkeep of cowsheds,” Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said on Sunday. Chouhan was addressing a crowd in the Agar Malwa district of the state, hours after the first meeting of the cow cabinet in Bhopal.
The first-of-its-kind ‘cow cabinet’ or ‘Gau cabinet’ was formed on November 19, 2020 in a bid to protect cows. It brought together six departments – Animal Husbandry, Agriculture, Panchayat, Forest, Home and Revenue.
The cow cess was under consideration ahead of the first meeting of the cow cabinet. The move was confirmed after the Chief Minister announced that proposals were being drafted for the imposition of the cess and a policy for cow protection and welfare.
The erstwhile Congress Government had also planned to levy a similar cess in order to fund its ambitious Gaushala project. The erstwhile government had planned to build 1,000 cow shelters across the state in a budget of Rs 4,500 crore. However, due to the lack of funds, the project was way behind the schedule.
If the state government imposes the cow cess, Madhya Pradesh will be the fifth state after Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh to have such a cess collected, albeit in different ways.
Mismatch in Cattle Data
According to official figures from the state government, Madhya Pradesh has 627 cowsheds which shelter 1.66 lakh cows while the State has registered 8.5 lakh stray bovines.
However, according to a report from 2017, the state had said that nearly 90 lakh cattle were set to get their own Aadhaar-like unique identification number.
Need for Cow Cess
Deep in debt, the BJP-led Madhya Pradesh government has taken on loans worth Rs 11,500 crore over the last eight months to keep things running amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As per data shared by the state’s Finance Minister Jagdish Dewda in a day-long assembly session on September 21, 2020, “By March 31 of the current year, the debt liabilities of the state stood at nearly Rs 2.26 lakh crore which was 24.95% of the Gross State Domestic Production,” he had said. The debt liability would have increased given the loan of over Rs 11,500 crore.
When the BJP returned to power in the state, it slashed the budget of the Animal Husbandry Department (which looks after cows) by 90%. In the current fiscal year, the state has just allocated Rs 11 crore against the previous budget of about Rs 132 crore.
Given the situation the cash-strapped state has no money to spend on cows. Hence, it is planning on levying the cess to generate funds.
Make Cowsheds Self-Reliant
The CM also talked about making cow-shelters independent and tried to diffuse the row over serving eggs to Anganwadi children by declaring that cow milk will be served instead. “Cow milk is nectar and it can be used extensively to eliminate malnutrition. Hence, I have decided to serve milk in Anganwadi and the milk will come from the cowsheds. It will help the cowsheds to become self-reliant,” said CM Chouhan on Sunday.
Going all out to make cow sheds financially autonomous, CM Chouhan also urged people to use cow dung made ‘gau-kasht’ instead of wood in crematoriums. He also urged people to use gaumutra to make pesticides and medicines. The CM also talked of gobar gas plants in villages with the help of the Government of India and said that gas connections could be given to rural families from these plants.
The CM also announced that a Veterinary and Animal Husbandry Science Centre will be set up on the lines of the Agriculture Science Centre in Salaria cow-sanctuary in Agar-Malwa district. It will be recognised by the Nanaji Deshmukh Veterinary Science University, Jabalpur, he added.