Unforeseen consequences of BJP’s 'cow-friendly' policies have put party on the backfoot among Bahraich’s farmers
Farmers in Bahraich find themselves face to face with a new predicament — hordes of stray cattle have been invading their fields and gobbling up their crops.
Hordes of stray cattle have been invading farmers' fields and gobbling up their crops.
This has forced them to maintain a round-the-clock vigil in their fields.
The increase in the number of stray cattle is being seen as an offshoot of the closure of illegal slaughterhouses.
'People do not want to incur expenses for bovines that don’t give milk', a farmer leader said.
Uttar Pradesh BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi says the matter of cow is related to faith and should not be politicised.
Editor's Note: A network of 60 reporters set off across India to test the idea of development as it is experienced on the ground. Their brief: Use your mobile phone to record the impact of 120 key policy decisions on everyday life; what works, what doesn't and why; what can be done better and what should be done differently. Their findings — straight and raw from the ground — will be combined in this series, Elections on the Go, over a course of 100 days.
Bahraich: The woes of Uttar Pradesh farmers show no signs of ending — for years, they have been battling non-payment or delayed payment for sugarcane, fall in prices of potato crop, supply of adulterated pesticides, inadequate supply of water for irrigation, erratic power supply and the dubious role of middlemen pocketing a large share of the support prices for wheat and paddy.
Despite government concessions, Mandi Parishads allegedly prevent farmers from transporting their produce to other districts, and the money-lending mafia squeeze them by charging hefty amounts as interest on loans, pushing many farmers over the edge to kill themselves.
But now, they find themselves face to face with a new, politically-rooted predicament — hordes of stray cattle have been invading their fields and gobbling up their crops. This has forced them to maintain a round-the-clock vigil in their fields.
Where do the cattle come from?
The increase in the number of stray cattle is being seen as an offshoot of the closure of illegal slaughterhouses, which was implemented by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, six months after he came to power in 2017. The initial perception was that the number of bulls in the state had increased; it was only later that people realised that many of the animals they had been seen wreaking havoc in the fields, were, in fact, cows roaming free since the closure of illegal slaughterhouses. But, as farmers from the area hesitatingly say, several of those bovines included those abandoned by their owners too.
Mann Prasad, a Dalit farmer who also works as a washerman and lives in Lucknow’s Chinhat area, owns five cows — two give milk, three don’t. And he says it is very difficult to bear the cost of fodder for the latter. “Everyone abandons a cow when she stops giving milk. I had too, but a neighbour complained to the police; so, I had to take them back. Milk from the two cows doesn’t earn me much and I have to borrow money and cut my expenses to feed the other three. I even approached two gaushalas to take the trio, but they said there is no space,” adds Prasad, saying he’s helpless and doesn’t know what to do with those three cows.
Bahraich Mandi Parishad’s secretary Subhash Singh, however, warns that there has been a drop of 15 percent in the quantity of crops coming to the market and the reason is stray cows. “It’s crucial to spread awareness among farmers to not abandon their cattle once they stop producing milk,” he says.
But Prasad is deaf to these warnings; he is miffed with the BJP. He says he voted for the party because it talked about cows, but who knew the revered animal would become such a problem for everyone. “There are cows everywhere, and no one has the place and money to keep them. If this continues, we won’t vote for the BJP again.”
Uttar Pradesh BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi says the matter of cow is related to faith and should not be politicised. “The government has issued directives to every district magistrate on housing stray cows and providing them food at the shelters. The magistrates have also been allotted money for this purpose,” he adds.
“But the most important thing to keep in mind is that the number of cows being slaughtered under the previous government was very high and our government put a stop to it. Within a few days, everything will be in place.”
How are farmers trying to chase them away?
In a bid to tackle this menace, farmers have started herding stray cattle from their fields into school and hospital compounds, and even local government offices.
When asked how students will study with cattle on the premises, Govind, a farmer from Bahraich, retorts, “Of what use is education when we won’t have anything for sustenance? All our time is spent in protecting our fields and crops. The cattle come in such large numbers that on two occasions, my entire crop has been destroyed.”
Recently, in the absence of cow shelters, farmers in Payagpur herded a large number of stray cattle and locked them inside Dhikalpurwa primary school. But even they know that can’t be a permanent solution.
Another farmer, Jaiprasad Nishad, says, “No matter what we do to protect our crops, the cattle are unmanageable. If we are standing guard in the fields, the animals enter our homes and eat up stored produce. In one case, they even attacked a child.”
Farmers explain that the menace is gradually assuming gigantic proportions and what makes it worse is that the cattle travel in large packs, making it difficult for a single person to chase them.
Sometimes, if a farmer is alone, the animals even attack him. This has forced them to form groups and take turns to protect their fields, be it in the freezing winds of a harsh winter, scorching heat of summer or heavy downpours during monsoons.
Life-or-death implications of the menace
Farmers struggle the most with stray cattle during the sprouting phase — the crop is soft, and especially if it is wheat, peas, paddy, lentils, and vegetables, the animals eat it up easily.
In an effort to curb that, more and more farmers in the state are switching to mint farming, as cattle do not eat mint.
But that, too, can’t be a long-term solution, because then, soon, there will be a glut of mint in the market and its cascading effect would, obviously, lead to a drop in prices. Hence, a stage will come when mint farming will no longer be economically feasible.
Political observers feel that the stray cattle issue will certainly be a big one in the forthcoming general elections.
If the government does not initiate concrete measures to tackle the issue, experts add, the situation might spin out of control, because, in areas where this menace is most rampant, the cost of land is decreasing fast. This becomes a problem for farmers if they have to sell or mortgage their land. Farmers in these areas are being compelled to look for alternative sources of earning.
A farmer leader from Bahraich, Hanuman Prasad Sharma, who had raised the issue of stray cattle, says farmers thought the government would take care of cows abandoned by their owners. “After the ban on illegal slaughterhouses in the state, the number of stray cows has increased. The reason is that people do not want to incur expenses for bovines that don’t give milk. Hence, the cattle are roaming on the streets and entering fields. Not only are they destroying crops, they are also causing road accidents and other mishaps. If the government does not find a timely solution for this problem, it’s going to cost the party in the elections,” he warns.
So what’s the government’s plan of action?
Deputy Director of the Uttar Pradesh Animal Husbandry Department Dr GC Pandey admits to the problem and says the government has released a fund of Rs 1.5 crore for seven districts of Jhansi division and Rs 1 crore for the other districts to build temporary shelters for the cows.
When asked about reports of lax administration officials and lack of adequate resources making the plan a white elephant for the treasury department, he reiterates, “District magistrates will be given the amount to set up the shelters and maintain them. A sum of Rs 30 per day per cow will also be given for fodder. We are planning to make 5,668 temporary shelters.”
(The author is a Bahraich-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters)
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