India Today - - INSIDE - —Kaushik Deka and Prachi Bhuchar

There’s ap­par­ently a new en­dan­gered species in town. In 1973, the govern­ment launched Pro­ject Tiger to pro­tect the big cat from al­most cer­tain ex­tinc­tion. Num­bers had dropped be­low 2,000, and it seemed al­ready too late to re­verse the tide. But con­ser­va­tion­ists ar­gued that if the tide could not be turned back, it could at least be stemmed. Nearly 50 years later, Han­sraj Ahir, Union min­is­ter of state for home, has de­cided some­thing sim­i­lar must be done to ‘save the cow’. In­dia’s cow pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to the live­stock cen­sus of 2012, is nearly 123 mil­lion. But Ahir has de­cided it’s never too early to take pre­cau­tions. He has called upon the en­vi­ron­ment min­istry to set up a pro­gramme to pro­tect cows, which, since the 2007 cen­sus, have only grown in num­ber by about 6.5 per cent.

Cow slaugh­ter is il­le­gal in most In­dian states, and Ahir said state gov­ern­ments must take re­spon­si­bil­ity for cows that no longer pro­vide milk and are aban­doned by farm­ers. He rec­om­mends that each state build shel­ters to house at least 500 such cows.

On April 24, the Cen­tre told the Supreme Court that it plans to

as­sign Aad­haar-like unique iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­bers to cat­tle. The an­i­mal hus­bandry depart­ment has as­signed al­most 100,000 tech­ni­cians to fit cows with a yel­low tag con­tain­ing 12-digit UIDs. The tag is ap­par­ently tam­per­proof, weighs 8 gm and will cost Rs 8 apiece. An on­line data­base will track iden­ti­fi­ca­tion de­tails as well as each an­i­mal’s health sta­tus and breed­ing de­tails. The Cen­tre has bud­geted Rs 148 crore for the pro­ject.

Birham Prakash, di­rec­tor, Cen­tral In­sti­tute for Re­search on Cat­tle, de­scribed the plan as “ridicu­lous”. “The govern­ment should come up with a plan to im­prove the pro­duc­tiv­ity of an­i­mals,” said Prakash. But the govern­ment in­sists it is do­ing just that, ex­pect­ing to dou­ble the in­comes of dairy farm­ers by 2022. “Is the govern­ment re­ally se­ri­ous about cow pro­tec­tion?” asks Ra­jasthan Congress pres­i­dent Sachin Pi­lot. “In Jaipur last year, 500 cows died in a govern­ment shel­ter in just two weeks.”

Lok Sabha MP Asadud­din Owaisi joked that since the Naren­dra Modi govern­ment had re­duced child wel­fare ser­vices and the mid-day meal bud­get, it should ear­mark Rs 1 lakh crore to pro­tect cows. Adds Pi­lot, “The govern­ment ex­poses its in­ten­tions through its pri­or­i­ties.”

PO­LIT­I­CAL FOD­DER Live­stock at a govern­ment dairy farm in Ja­hangirabad, Bara­banki

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