Bhopal: In Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Madhya Pradesh, a cowshed run by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) alone accounted for 82% of the bovine deaths reported in Bhopal in the past five years.
The two-decade old cowshed, Jeevan Dya Gaurakshan Evam Samvardhan Kendra, popularly known as VHP Ke Gaushala, located on the outskirts of the Bhopal-Vidisha road, reported 4,609 out of the total 5,578 bovine deaths in the last five years in the state capital.
Incidentally, the state government had allocated Rs 1.78 crore to the cowshed in the past five years for fodder and maintenance, an RTI application has revealed.
The highest number of cow deaths, 1,690, was reported in 2016-17, followed by 1,317 in 2017-18 while the lowest, 109, was reported in 2020, according to the state government’s RTI reply.
The RTI application, filed by activist Vivek Pandey in Madhya Pradesh Gaupalan Evam Pashu Samvardhan Board, had sought the details of funds spent on cows from 2015 to 2020. In reply, the board said that the state government had spent Rs 5.42 crore on total 28 cowsheds of Bhopal for procuring fodder and maintenance in the last five years with more than 32% of the funds transferred to the VHP cowshed. The cowshed was allocated the highest amount, Rs 37 lakh, in 2017, followed by Rs 32 lakh in 2019.
According to Ashok Jain, chairman of the VHP-associated trust that runs the shed and the regional head of VHP’s Bhartiya Gauvansh Rakshan Samvardhan Parishad, it is the biggest cowshed in Bhopal with more than 1,800 cows. “The major reason for the deaths is illness, weakness and consumption of polythene. The municipal corporation and villagers from nearby panchayats drop old and ill cows at the shed but they hardly survive,” he said. However, Jain, whose wife Asha is a four-time BJP corporator, claimed that the BJP government has ignored the cows and the payment for fodder is pending for the last 11 months.
According to officials, Bhopal has 12 government cowsheds housing more than 950 cows constructed recently. Besides, the district has 26 cowsheds with more than 9,000 cows managed by social groups and individuals. The government spends Rs 20 per day on a cow in private cowsheds. “Besides the government funds, cow lovers donate more than Rs 65 lakh, including Rs 20 lakh in cash, a year, which helps in running the sheds,” according to Jain.
Dr. Ajay Ramteke, deputy director, MP Animal Husbandry Department, justified the large number of deaths in the VHP cowshed. “Since the Jeevan Dya Gaurakshan Evam Samvardhan Kendra is the biggest cowshed with close to 1,800 cows, the 10% mortality rate is normal, which sometimes surge to 20% in monsoon or in winter,” he told Newclick. However, Ramteke failed to explain the death of only 109 cows in 2020.
As far as the payment is concerned, Ramteke said, “The department has paid more than 40 lakh to the VHP cowshed in two instalments since May.”
The cow has been a constant phenomenon in politics, especially in poll-bound states, even since Narendra Modi came to power in 2014—whether India was grappling with the economic slowdown, unemployment or COVID-19.
In Madhya Pradesh, the cow was the centre of politics before the 2018 Assembly elections. The Congress played the bovine card to announce construction of 1,000 cowsheds across the state and more allocation on fodder. Within a week of becoming chief minister, Kamal Nath not only announced the construction of the promised 1,000 cowsheds but also hiked the allocation on fodder from Rs 5 to Rs 20 per day.
In the 2019 Budget, the Congress government announced a separate budget of more than Rs 400 crore for the construction of cowsheds and also allocated Rs 132 crore to the Animal Husbandry Department.
Consequently, the VHP cowshed received Rs 32 lakh out of the total Rs 1 crore allocated to the 22 cowsheds for fodder and maintenance. However, when the BJP returned to power in 2020, it slashed the budget from Rs 132 crore to Rs 11 crore, drawing huge criticism. To placate cow lovers, the government allocated Rs 60 crore to the Animal Husbandry Department in the next Budget, which also “seems insufficient”, an official said.
Coming down heavily on the BJP, state Congress spokesperson Abbas Hafeez Khan told Newsclick, “For the BJP, the cow is a sacred animal and abandoning or slaughtering it in Madhya Pradesh attracts rigorous imprisonment of up to three years with a hefty fine. But when cows die due to the failure of the BJP government and in a VHP-run cowshed, it neither considered a sacred animal nor a crime.”
Terming the high number of deaths in the VHP cowshed alarming and demanding a probe, Khan said, “It seems that cows aren’t safe among their self-proclaimed protectors—the VHP and the BJP government. The government should investigate to identify the reason for the large number of cow deaths.”
Just like Bhopal, 1,486 cows died in Rewa’s seven cowsheds in last five years even though the government spent Rs 1.15 crore on them in that duration.