Intro : The cow touches all our economic activities. This had been recognised even in ancient times. That is why sentimental, religious and great economic importance has been attached to ‘the cow’.
Cow slaughter is not some new issue which has been taken up under Modi government. It is a sensitive issue which has been in debate even during our freedom struggle, and was also raised during constitutional debates. The present NDA Government is thus committed to ban cow slaughter in India. Some states have banned cow slaughter. Yet, numbers of cows continues to dwindle. Reason being, it has become unprofitable for the farmer to maintain cows.
|“Cows provide approx 100 million tonnes of dry dung a year costing Rs 5000 crores which saves 50 million tonnes of firewood which again means that many trees saved and more environmental damage prevented. It is calculated that if these 73 million animals were to be replaced, we would need 7.3 million tractors at the cost of 2.5 lac each which would amount to an investment of 180,000 crores. In addition 2 crore, 37 lakh and 50 thousand tonnes of diesel which would mean another 57,000 crore rupees. This is how much we owe these animals, and this is what we stand to lose by killing them.” |
– Maneka Gandhi
In villages, straw produced from the crops was fed to the cows. But the amount of manure produced from this was not sufficient to maintain the fertility of the soil. The manure produced from straw was supplemented by manure produced from grazing. Because villages had large areas of common lands where cows used to graze, the need for supplemental food in the form of straw never arose. The only cost in rearing them was that of that labour that took them for grazing. They produced milk and manure virtually for free. And the manure produced from grazing and consumption of straw was sufficient to maintain the nutrient balance of the soil. This happy circumstance has been disturbed, and the common grazing lands have largely been diverted. The land has been diverted and used for making schools and other uses. As a consequence, the space for grazing has reduced, and so has the production of manure. Cows now largely live off the straw produced from the fields. The reductions of manure produced by cows have made farmers rely more on chemical fertilisers. And, having got used to chemical fertilisers, they find it cumbersome to collect the dung, store it and spread it into the fields. With time, the dependence of the farmer on the cow for the production of manure thus evaporated into thin air.
The subsides provided by the government on chemical fertilisers has not helped. These subsidies were put in place in the wake of the droughts that plagued the country in the sixties. That was a necessary emergency response. But we have unduly extended the policy. As a result the farmer has continually found it profitable to use cheap chemical fertilisers and has avoided maintaining a large hoard of cows in order to produce the required quantity of manure. A proposal was made during the previous NDA Government to import cow dung from the developed countries. That was not allowed then. I think that was a mistake. Organic manure made from cow dung is more effective in maintaining the nutrient balance in the soil. On the other hand inorganic N-P-K fertilisers harden and kill the living soil. It is time to retrace that step. The government must import cow dung, convert it into manure and distribute it at subsidised rates to the farmers. This will create a positive attitude among farmers towards the organic manures and, in turn, encourage them to maintain cows. Infact, this will help preserve the soil health as well.
The cost of labour that is required to take the cow for grazing has become prohibitive. Adding to it, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act (MNREGA) led to an increase in cost of farm labour. The promotion of child education has led to the children not taking the cows for grazing. That has made it difficult to maintain cows. The farmer finds it profitable to maintain buffalo instead of cow because the former is a sedentary animal. The straw is fed to the buffalo in the shed and the animal is happy to sit whole day and convert it into milk. Foreign breeds of cows like the Jersey too are sedentary. But the Jersey is not considered holy. Perhaps the quality of milk produced by Jersey cows is inferior to the milk produced by desi cows. The Government must take up an ambitious programme to breed sedentary desi cows so that the cost of grazing can be reduced.
India’s cattle wealth is unique in the world. We have got traditionally available 30 breeds of cows, 20 breeds of goats, 40 breeds of sheep, 12 breeds of buffaloes, 8 breeds of horses, 6 breeds of camels and several known and fine breeds of load carrying donkeys and mules. Among the cattle bio-diversity India’s share is more than 15 per cent of the whole world-while our area is 2.2 per cent. There is a demand for Indian breed of Jebu (with hump) cows in more than 70 countries. These breeds have got some special qualities which make them superior to even imported breeds and cross breeds developed through imported ones. The quality of Jebu cow’s milk is better. They have got more resistance power to fight the diseases, capacity to give comparatively more milk with comparatively lesser fodder and animal feed and remarkable energy to withstand cold and hot seasons. For example, the average Indian cows milk contains 5.5 per cent fat, buffalo’s milk 7.75 per cent fat while the foreign and cross-bred cows contain 3.6 per cent fat in their milk.
The use of tractor has eliminated the need for bullocks. We have become self-sufficient in food grains, in part, due to this contraption. It has become possible to cultivate large areas in a short time with the help of tractor. As a result the area under cultivation has increased. But this has created a major problem for the male progeny of the cow. They are no longer required. Because the farmer has to feed the precious straw to the bullocks, he prefers to maintain buffalo instead of cow for this reason.
The practice of determining the price of milk on basis of fat has not helped either. Buffalo milk has more fat than cow milk. But the “Solid Non Fats” (SNFs) are more in cow milk. SNF is very healthy and good for the development of the mind of children. But people are not aware of this difference between the milk of the cow and the buffalo. As a result they ask for “milk” rather than “cow milk.” It is necessary to make a law that requires the pouches to mention whether the milk is cow milk or buffalo milk and what is the SNF content. There is also a necessity to launch or initiate a massive education programme to educate the people on the benefits of cow milk. If these measures are taken they will definitely lead to an increase in the price of cow milk vis-à-vis buffalo milk and make it profitable for the farmer to maintain cows.
Various experiments have been made in the country on the medical benefits of cow urine. I have known persons who have taken cow urine capsules with beneficial results. But the number of cows required to produce these medications will be small. And these benefits will not majorly alter the economics in favour of the cow.
Gandhiji said, “I hold that the question of cow-slaughter is of great moment – in certain respects of even greater moment – than that of Swaraj. Cow-slaughter and manslaughter are, in my opinion, two sides of the same coin.”
The fundamental point is that the government policies need to focus on changing the economics of the cow. It simply will not do to have economic policies that'll make it an unprofitable proposition for the farmer to keep a cow and hope that ban on slaughter will save her. The Government must rectify the underlying economic policies on priority basis. Banning slaughter may be considered thereafter.
Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala (The writer is a senior columnist )