Kanpur Diary: No More Waiting Till The Cows Come Home

I always visit my home town, Kanpur, a couple of times a year to refresh my roots and to check whether my Brahmin community has been declared as OBC yet. Just back after an exhilarating and kabab imbued visit, I am happy to report that my roots are thriving, but sadly the Brahmins have not yet been admitted into the hallowed portals of reservations. The reason for this is two-fold: one, there is some confusion about the caste status of Hanuman after the Yogi’s claim that he is a Dalit, and there is also a dispute over whether the crucial determinant is gotra or Godhra. The community itself is a divided lot, with some preferring a 10% commission over a 10% reservation, arguing that while the latter might get you into the Sachivalaya the former will get you to Davos, and a photo-op with the Prime Minister to boot!

And so while the Brahmins argue among themselves, the cows have quietly taken over the state, in their own docile but persistent way. As I discovered during my visit, the Cow dominates all policy making in UP nowadays (the Kumbh Mela comes a close second). This was only to be expected after the banning of slaughter and sale of cattle by the BJP government, and Mr. Yogi’s single minded enforcement of it has turned a problem into a disaster. The facts speak for themselves.

According to the UP govt’s own 2007-2012 cattle census the state has 6.46 crore (64 million) cows and buffaloes. Going by the national average, about 64 lakhs male calves are born every year, and approx. 60 lakh of the existing population either become unproductive or die every year. That means there are about 1.20 crore unproductive cattle generated each year, practically all of them belonging to farmers. Before the ban they were sent to abattoirs to feed the meat and leather industry. The farmer received one fourth of his original investment on an animal, which he used to acquire a new animal. This was a well established ten year cycle of rural UP. This cycle has now been broken, with disastrous economic and social consequences.

The Indian leather and meat industry is worth $16 billion or about Rs. 110,000 crores. It has lost 40% of its worth in the last two years. Agra alone manufactured 1 million pairs of footwear EVERY DAY. Kanpur has more than five dozen tanneries: its supply of hides has now dropped by 40% and the tanneries have shed some 400,000 jobs. (It is estimated that in UP as a whole almost 3.50 million jobs may have been lost in these twin industries). While this may well have served the BJP’s objective of striking at the economic roots of a particular community, it has had an unintended consequence on another, multi-religious, numerically vast, politically vital community: the Indian farmer.

It wasn’t that the agriculture economists had not sounded the warnings. In an article in January 2017 Mr. Vikas Rawal, a Professor of Economics in JNU, had cautioned that the cost of looking after 27 crore unproductive cattle in India would cost the nation Rs. 5.40 lakh crore per annum – five times the defence budget. It would require five lakh acres of land to house them, there was not enough fodder in the country to feed them, and they would need more water than what is consumed by all Indians put together. Others calculated that it costs a farmer about Rs. 30000-40000 a year to maintain a cow, bull or buffalo and that there was no way he could bear this expense for an unproductive animal: he would have no choice but to let the animal loose and abandon it. They warned that, if allowed to roam free, these cattle would devastate farmers’ crops and create an agrarian crisis. The then Chief Economic Advisor to the govt. maintained a pregnant silence, but the pregnancy was noticeable.

Exactly this has now come to pass in Kanpur and the rest of UP over the last month and the whole govt. is running around in circles like a headless chicken. Farmers in Kanpur, Aligarh, Meerut, Agra and elsewhere do not need this additional burden on top of all their other woes, and have decided to take matters into their own hands: they have started rounding up the stray cattle and driving them into schools, govt.offices and police stations, and locking the gates. District Magistrates are dung-founded, students have been sent home, and policemen have been forced to give up their favourite sport of “encounters” and look after these cattle. In one district all govt. employees – 15000 of them by last count – have resolved to adopt one cow each! A panic stricken state govt. has allocated Rs. 10 crores and Rs. 1.50 crore to big and small districts, respectively, to build gaushalas. In order to raise funds for this losing battle it has last week imposed additional cesses on excise duty, highway tolls, agriculture market committees etc. But the Chief Minister still will not read the fine print: it will cost the state at least Rs. 40000 crore every year to take care of these stray cattle, even if the appalling logistics of the exercise could be tamed. He doesn’t realise (or admit) it, but he has dug himself into a deep hole, and, in accordance with the first rule of all diggers, should now stop digging and reverse this pyrrhic article of faith. The alternative, of course, is for him to keep praying at his Gorakhpur Matth till the cows come home. They are on their way.

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

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  1. says: Govindarajan

    All that this IAS official has argued may be factual about old cattle’s, but absolutely Rubbish justifying killing them for meat and skin industry. No reason on earth can justify killing of animals, who have same jeevaathman, but bodies other than human form.

    All are creations of God and man has no right to kill what cannot be created by him. Then why not apply the same rule for humans, who cease productive employability. Why go on nurturing them with fat monthly pensions which may be ten times the national defence budget!

    All jeevathmas created by God have to live in harmony and coexist, without harming each other.
    No human can argue beyond Vedic dictum, assuming scholarly intellect. Eating meat for a living is sternly prohibited by Vedas. Worshipping Lord Krishna and eating meat of any form are not complimentary with each other, but totally opposed to the love of Sri Krishna.
    May God bless the IAS scholar to be given some enlightenment to apply his brain in a righteous path.

  2. says: debarati banerjee

    Dear Mr. Shukla

    Your post made interesting reading. The points you have raised n drawn our attention to, with detailed stats, made me aware of the humongous proportion of the problem at hand. As an ardent animal lover & a compassionate Buddhist, I had a one sided view of this issue till now.
    Thank you for helping me to see the other side. I hope, wish and pray that we as a nation find a balanced solution to this challenging situation. It’s not about politics.
    It’s about the people & the innocent animals.

    Debarati Banerjee

  3. says: Avay Shukla

    Ms. Banerjee’s views are much more balanced than those of Mr. Govindrajan’s who cannot look beyond his vegan fad at the very real problem of cattle management. Mr. Govindrajan no doubt drinks milk and laces his food with butter and ghee, and wears leather chappals and belts. Where does he think they come from? What does he propose to do with the cows once they are unable to provide his staples? There are 180 million bovines in India; can they be accommodated in gaushalas? Lakhs of them roam the streets, starving and sick, dying of ingesting plastics: does he think that this is a better fate for them? The issue here is not one about eating meat or being a vegetarian. It’s about a social and economic problem, about animal welfare, and the need to find a solution that addresses all these dimensions. Going vegetarian will certainly reduce the total number of cattle; it will be beneficial for the environment as it will release millions of acres of land for growing food crops instead of fodder and will also result in reduction of methane gas( responsible for 15% of green house gas emissions). But there will still remain tens of millions of cattle, and we would still have to find a way of disposing of them when they become unproductive. Fads and religious shibboleths will not help, only compassionate and economically sound policies will.

  4. says: RAMLAL

    I think he understands the village economy, the poor farmers plight. Beautiful article very much to the point. People are who suddenly saddled in power , rightly deserve to be confined to religion and Muths .

  5. says: Bharat Upadrasta

    Dear Mr. Shukla,

    Thank you for the enlightening read. It’s truly sad that communal politics being played out by the right wing government to appease their followers and agenda is a huge economic burden. Having yet to recover from the disaster called demonetization, we as a nation seem to shoot ourselves in the foot even as we seem to progress ever so slightly. Some of the policy and decision making is stuff that Mohammed Bin Tughlaq would be proud of and applaud…

  6. says: Sanjay

    Nicely written with humour.
    I got this on WhatsApp, Initially I thought it was a fake forward but on checking your name on the net I found your site.
    Is there really way around ? Without being cruel to the animals or destroying the economy or having to create vast pastures for feed crop. ??

  7. says: Birind

    Avaye Shukla,
    Points could be driven home without being sarcastic.
    One view is just as good, as the other; Or, conversely, as bad’.
    Govindrajan in in decorum; even though, he too, in retort, could have lashed his tongue in the same vein.
    One has followed, ‘musings; but dismayed.

  8. says: Avay Shukla

    Where is the sarcasm? Those are very valid questions I have asked of him. We have to expose the hypocrisy of fads, of people who will not eat meat but have no qualms about using other animal products in their personal lives, for which too these creatures have to be slaughtered. Vegetarianism is good for the planet, as I have pointed out.It may even be good for our health. But then cattle have been domesticated for human use for thousands of years, and they cannot be wished away by employing short sighted religious or ” compassionate” ideology. There are economic and social dimensions and balanced policies have to be devised to find solutions. Aiming barbs at “IAS scholars” and wishing them “enlightenment” ( Mr. Govindrajan’s words!) does not help the discourse in any way.

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