Cows and bovines in general are the most contentious animals in India. Groups linked to Hinduism are spiritually and sentimentally connected with the cow and its progeny while for others the animal is best used for milk, meat and leather. The problem with the argument on both sides is that neither is based on science, environmental research or the animal rights, argument that here is an animal that, at the end of her milk giving years is rewarded with slaughter.
The tragedy of the situation is that in the middle of these two factions, the conditions of bovines in India remains deplorable. The reality these animals face is grim; they are kept in dairies for most of their lives. These dairies afford the animals little room to move, they are artificially inseminated by untrained individuals, have their calves taken away from them within minutes of being born and when they no longer give milk, proceed for slaughter. There are also those who are abandoned on the streets and live off the charity of vegetable vendors or forage out of garbage. Stray cattle, as every urban Indian knows, constitute a huge nuisance for municipal authorities. The Indian Council for Agricultural Research has a composite solution to the entire issue by way of setting up dry dairies which provide an earned retirement for the animals, livelihoods in the rural sector, opportunity for creation and collection of biogas and vermin-compost. However, these are not in use even in BJP-ruled states.
The life of a dairy animal
Most people believe erroneously that bovines continuously “give” milk. Bovines like all mammals, lactate when they have an offspring. This is the reason why most bovines are continuously impregnated. A cow/buffalo is impregnated and carries the calf for nine months. Within two-three short months of the birth of the calf, the cow/buffalo is impregnated again. This impregnation is done by artificial insemination which is a major veterinary intervention into a vital organ. Unqualified and ill-trained livestock supervisors insert their bare hands into a cows/buffaloes uterus. This gives the animal infections, severe pain and cramps. The cow/buffalo is lactating through her entire pregnancy and the milk is collected and used for human consumption. To let the milk down, dairy owners give the animals a daily injection of oxytocin – a hormone which causes labour pains and the milk begins to flow. Oxytocin is a hormone and has an irreversible and severe impact on the animal as well as on humans if administered without a medical reason. Most calves are useless to the dairy industry and discarded for slaughter. Sometimes the young calf perishes within a few hours of being separated from the mother. To make use of the dead body, the head of the calf is severed and kept in front of the lactating cow or buffalo so that the animal continues to lactate. Dairy animals are not given space to move and stand in the same space for the four to five years that they are able to give milk. Once they stop lactating enough to make them economically viable to the industry, they are sent for slaughter.
Dry dairies - A solution
Cows, buffaloes and bulls are extremely useful for India’s agrarian economy. They have tremendous ecological and economical value while alive. If sent for slaughter, it is only the butcher and exporter who make money out of these animals. Since most of the slaughter is illegal, the proceeds generally go into funding criminal activities. This is well documented and has been discussed at several credible forums including the Observer Research Foundation. If kept alive and used for production of vermicompost and biogas, the entire village economy stands to gain. This concept has been articulated recently by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research in its report, 'Dry Dairy Units - Management and Utilization of Unproductive Cattle of India'. India has the second largest cattle population in the world. According to the last Livestock Census conducted in 2012, India possesses a total of 190 million cattle. This same census has shown that 5.29 million cattle are stray and live on the streets.
The concept of dry dairy farming uses traditional methodologies for composting cow dung into manure, creation of biogas, preparation of biopesticides from cow urine and other innovative ecological initiatives. This module presents India with an opportunity to be the world’s first organic nation. It benefits society via skill development, employment, the availability of organic manure and green energy. It helps the animals by providing them with an earned retirement. It is essentially a win-win solution for all stakeholders. Dry dairies are spaces where bovines who can no longer lactate enough and male calves can be kept, given a sustenance diet and they can fuel the village, its fertilizer requirement and take India towards an organic future. It involves the creation of biogas plants and vermicompost pits to make sure that the energy requirements and fertilizer needs are sustainably met. It is a futuristic and scientific solution rooted in our culture. The dry dairy model presents an innovative solution in which the state and the animals greatly benefit.
Many states in India are currently facing drought-like situations, namely Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana and Chhattisgarh. The utilisation of chemical fertilizers on these lands only exacerbates the problems faced by the farmers as these chemicals dry the land and make farming in the future much harder. The chemical fertiliser industry is worth over Rs 70,000 crores and stands to be hit by this model. Vermicompost is sold for Rs 200 to Rs 500 for 10 kgs — this price can be brought down hugely and it can be made available to the average farmer. Much like Sikkim, every state can go organic. Much can be said about the health benefits to the average citizen who today for lack of options consumes food that has been grown with chemical fertilisers.
Our reliance on fossil fuels is causing huge environmental degradation. The case against fossil fuels has been tried and won and yet fossil fuels are in rampant use. In India, there is tremendous potential for biogas utilisation. The dry dairy report estimates that based on the availability of dung from 304 million cattle in India, over 18,240 million cubic meter of biogas can be generated annually. This biogas generation can fuel street lights or gas cylinders of entire villages.
This must not be left to non-government organisations or gaushalas who are underfunded and not as well organised as the government to achieve. The only way to sustainably connect bovines to organic farming and prevent illegal slaughter and smuggling of cows is for the government to make 'cattle camps' based on the dry dairy model, for every cluster of villages. These cattle camps can sell their produce to the department of agriculture at a minimum support price and use a part of the proceeds to feed the animals and for maintenance of these camps. Unless the dry dairy model is institutionalised, it will be near impossible to provide vermicompost, biogas and prevent illegal slaughter and smuggling of animals no matter how noble the government thinks their intentions are.
Will the government act or is cow protection just for the appeasement of a vote bank as many critics and analysts fear?
When industries that pollute have been held accountable for the pollution that they cause by the Supreme Court by way of the “polluter pays” principle, why should the dairy industry be allowed to go scot-free and not take ownership for the male calves and cows/buffaloes once they have outlived their utility? BJP-led governments have recently imposed more stringent Animal Preservation/Cow Protection Acts in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Haryana. Most states in India have a prohibition on the slaughter of cows and bullocks but no state has a plan for what can be done with these animals when they are no longer useful to the dairy industry. The dry dairy model has offered a solution with potential now and it remains to be seen whether states take this seriously and actually implement it to benefit village economies at scale.
Gauri Maulekhi is an animal rights activist and Ambika Nijjar is an activist and lawyer.
Updated Date: Apr 25, 2017 18:39 PM