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Madhya Pradesh Loves its Cows but not Stray Ones

Kashif Kakvi |
The matter of stray cows causing road accidents, ruining crops, and attacking people racked up in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh after the Union Transport Minister and farmers complained to the CM, urging him to deal with the stray cows' menace.
Madhya Pradesh Loves its Cows but not Stray Ones

Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Bhopal: The busy Swami Vivekanandan square of Madhya Pradesh Vidisha district went into a rampage on the evening of July 5, 2023, when a Punjab-bound truck hit a stray cow sitting at the centre of the road.

It was around 8 p.m when the accident happened, and the stray cow died on the spot. It wasn't the driver's fault only. Yet, the enraged mob dragged the driver out of the truck, assaulted him and set the truck on fire. Vidisha police rescued the driver and arrested him for rash driving under Sections 279 and 429 of the IPC.

Two weeks later, 400 km away from Vidisha in Satna district, on July 21, three youths died after their motorcycle struck the carcass of a cow in Satna.

The cow is a holy animal in Hindu religion, but stray cattle – mostly abandoned males or unproductive bovines – have been causing chaos in Madhya Pradesh and the country.

Last year in Rewa, locals threw over 150 stray cattle from a cliff and over 80 cows in choppy waters, which were later rescued by the district administration. 

The problem of a sudden jump in stray animals was recorded partly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as Madhya Pradesh's chief minister, tightened the slaughter restrictions in the past decade. New technology has also allowed farmers to need fewer cattle. Hence, they often abandon unproductive cattle.

According to the 2019 Animal Census, Madhya Pradesh has 8.54 lakh stray cows, which has doubled from the previous census in 2012. With the rising number of stray cows, there are frequent reports of cattle attacking people, causing car accidents, ruining ready-to-harvest crops, and spreading disease. 

Although it's nothing new to see stray cattle wandering through towns or down highways in Madhya Pradesh, things have gone out of control in recent years. In towns, cows were mostly spotted at garbage dumps or sitting along the roadside -- either starving or injured after getting hit by cars.

The stray animal menace could turn the driving experience in Madhya Pradesh into a nightmare. The state has the most unsafe roads in the country after Tamil Nadu, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, which recorded 49,493 accident cases in 2021.

As one drives through the 300-km Bhopal-Jabalpur highway, one may spot more stray cattle on the highway rather than vehicles in a four-hour journey. One can see the injured cows, their carcass, overturned trucks or damaged vehicles alongside the highway.

Amritlal Gupta [26], a truck driver from Bihar, was luckier than other travellers who lost their lives owing to stray animals.

On July 23, 2023, Gupta had a close have with death when four stray cows sitting on the Bhopal-Jabalpur highway near Bislari village of Raisen district immediately started running on the highway. Gupta, driving at a speed of 60 km/hr, immediately pushed the brake with force but lost control, and the truck overturned with a shrilling sound.

It was around 4 p.m when Gupta met with an accident while transporting edible items from Patna to Indore. He survived with a head injury but incurred a loss of over Rs 5 lakh in the mishap.   

One of the witnesses of the accident was Daulat Singh [43], a resident of Bislari village. He told this reporter, "Two accidents take place every day because the stray cows sit on both sides of the highway. It's been happening for the last three years. A couple of months ago, we found the carcass of five stray cows crushed to death by a speeding truck at night."  

"We often flagged to the nearest Udaipura Police station, employees of nearby Salari cowshed and Gau Rakshak outfits but to no avail," he said, adding, "If the government fails to remove stray cows from the road, then it should open a hospital and garage in the village so that lives could be saved and vehicles can be repaired."

Miffed with the complaints of stray animals, Union Transport Development Minister Nitin Gadkari, on September 4, 2023, dashed off a letter to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, urging him to prevent the highways from becoming a Gaushala.

In his letter, Gadkari voiced concern about accidents caused by stray animals on Madhya Pradesh's national highways. 

"I am constantly receiving complaints about stray animals," he stated

"During my stay in Datia, I spotted herds of cattle in numerous spots on the way, and I also brought this to the attention of the local authority. The presence of animals on the National Highway is impeding efforts to prevent traffic accidents. You are requested to stop the movement of animals on all national highways."

Urging the CM to take strict action on stray animals, he wrote, "It is the responsibility of all of us to prevent road accidents with quality construction."

Imposing penalty did not Help

After the Union Transport Minister's letter, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the state government is reluctant to deal with the stray animal menace.

Even though the government, Municipal bodies and district administrations in many districts like Rajgarh, Agar-Malwa, Shajapur, and Gwalior issued a slew of directives in the last couple of months and introduced penalties of Rs 1,000 in case owners abandon their cows, it yielded no results. 

In some districts like Balaghat, the district administration began sticking glow-in-the-dark strips on the horns of stray cattle to prevent motorists from crashing, but it did not resolve the issue.

Fed up with the government's inaction to deal with the issue, some sarpanches took desperate measures. In Nagnaudi village panchayat of Shahdol district, a sarpanch tried "to take the problem of stray cattle by the horns but found out he had taken a tiger by the tail."

A viral video of the 'munadi' (announcement) showed "a drummer going around the village, warning that anyone leaving their cattle in the open would be fined with 'five shoe beatings and Rs 500'." The announcement sparked outrage, and the sarpanch had to apologise later.

Khilan Singh Rajput, another sarpanch from Garehta village in Vidisha district's Sironj janpad, told this reporter, "We complained to police and even wrote to senior officials for a gaushala. Stray cattle are a significant problem." 

Animal Husbandry Dept Swamped with Complaints 

Between June 15 and July 15, the animal husbandry department in Bhopal was flooded with complaints. 

"Almost all the complaints were related to stray animals," said Gulshan Bamra, principal secretary of the Animal Husbandry Department. 

"The number of stray animals has doubled in the last couple of years, but the infrastructure has remained the same," he told NewsClick.

Developing infrastructure for cows falls under four departments: the Panchayat and Rural Development Department, the Urban Development Department, the Public and Works Department and the Revenue Department. The Animal Husbandry Department can only issue directives, clarified the official. 

"It is for the first time in 2019-20 when the state government [Congress] announced plans to build cowsheds under the MGNREGA scheme. And the construction of over 1800 cowsheds have been completed," Bamra said. 

"With the support of 700 private cowsheds, the government is accommodating over 3 lakh stray animals, offering Rs 20 for the fodder of each animal."

The Animal Husbandry Department officials clarified that other departments can frame laws to provide funds, but it is the responsibility of Municipal bodies or the panchayats to deal with stray animal menace.  

Recalling one such complaint, an official said that with just a rumour of reopening Gosadan [A designated place for cow grazing used to be inside the forest area] in the Delawadi forest of Sehore districts, nearby farmers began leaving the stray animals inside the forest to prevent their crops. Farmers left thousands of cows in just a day or two, which were later evacuated by the Forest officials. 

It's happening when the state government claims to spend nearly Rs 200 crore on cows. 

"Farmers who support the government's move to prohibit cow slaughter suffer the most. Often, a herd of cows ruin their ready-to-harvest crops. Neither can they cater to the unproductive cows, nor can they be cruel to the animals owing to their faith. Thus, they abandon them at the mercy of the government," said an official of the Animal Husbandry Department.

As the matter reached the Chief Minister, the Animal Husbandry Department issued several directives on July 15 addressing district collectors. However, even after two months, the situation is far from improving.

According to the letter issued by the Department on July 25, 2023, the collectors were directed to shift the stray animals from the highways with the help of Municipal bodies and National Highway patrolling vehicles to the nearby cowsheds. The letter asks the collectors to revive the Gausadans, which were shut down in 2000. It also asks them to create Gauthan [a designated land where the stray cows can be left for grazing] in those panchayats which do not have cowsheds. 

The misery of cows is rampant in a state that formed a 'cow cabinet' in November 2020 to protect sacred animals by clubbing six departments together -- Animal Husbandry, Forest, Panchayat and Rural Development, Revenue, Home and Farmers Welfare. Interestingly, even after 2.6 years of formation, a cow cabinet meeting is yet to be held. 

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