The Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog or National Cow Commission, was constituted in February 2019. Chairperson Vallabh Kathiria tells Bhasker Tripathi, the commission will review state laws related to the protection of cows and ensure that all cow slaughter is stopped, including in states where it is still legal. Edited excerpts:
What is the role of the new Aayog? Will it function as a think-tank or as an implementing authority?
The Aayog has a huge mandate. It is an apex body which will not only advise the government on policies but also be involved in the implementation of some of them. The Rashtriya Gokul Mission (a mission to improve bovine breeding technology and increase their productivity) will now be an integral part of the Aayog.
We will also focus on gau-raksha (cow protection) by reviewing all state laws. We will also ensure that in states where cow slaughter is still legal, (it will be) shut down. We will issue guidelines for this and also monitor (the situation).
The Aayog will also promote successful cow rearing practices (along) with agriculture to increase the income of our marginal farmers, so that our prime minister's goal of doubling farm income by 2022 is ensured. We will ensure that farmers in the country get good prices from the milk they sell in the market.
A cow provides five major products called ‘panchgavya’ — milk, curd, ghee, dung and urine. We plan to promote start-ups that will produce and popularise these products among the youth. We will also promote cow-based start-ups under the ministry of micro, small and medium enterprises to manufacture bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides. Cow urine and dung can be used to make phenyl, soaps and other such products. Large corporates can also come into this.
Because of its importance in environment protection, a cow, in India, is referred to as 'mother'. But as we progressed as a society, we forgot its importance. Earlier people would coat their floors and walls with cow dung because it has antibacterial properties, but now you rarely see that happening. Reminding, informing and educating people about these benefits is something we will focus on. We will bring science and spirituality together to make cow a necessary tool for social transformation, poverty alleviation and to fight climate change.
At 199 million, India has 14.5 per cent of the world’s cattle population but it also has the lowest average milk production rate. Over three decades to 2012, the average productivity of Indian cattle grew from 1.9 kg to 3.9 kg per day but this compared poorly with the 2012 figures from the UK, US and Israel -- 25.6 kg, 32.8 kg and 38.6 kg respectively. How will the Aayog fix this?
We will prepare indigenous bulls of breeds known for their high milk productivity, for example Tharparkar, Sahiwal, Ongole and Ganga-tiri. Their semen will be used on low-productivity indigenous cows and the female calves they give birth to will then become high-milk yielding cows. We will also breed and prepare bulls with good genetics and distribute them in villages.
But despite its agenda of improving and conserving indigenous cattle breeds, the BJP-led government has not been allocating sufficient funds to the cause. In its first stint, the government was supposed to spend Rs 2,000 crore by 2019-20 on its flagship scheme, the National Gokul Mission, started in 2014. But it did not. Even now the Aayog has been allocated only Rs 500 crore. Will this change?
In this term, cow welfare will remain a priority for the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government. The budget will not be a constraint because we will work towards aligning state budgets with the priorities of the national government. We will invite non-profits to join the public-private partnership (PPP) model. There are many religious organisations in the country working on breed improvement — we will get them to work with the government. This is how we will get everyone together and create a network of like-minded institutions to protect and improve cow breeds in their own states.
The Aayog has proposed the setting up of “cow tourism centres” with “an initial investment of around Rs 2 crore per centre with public-private partnership”, across India, said a Scroll.in report. How do you plan to attract private investment, and who are your potential tourists?
All the locations in the country with good cow-sheds operated by temples, laboratories working on cattle research, panchgavya production units and market centres, etc will be put on a map to form a cow-tourism circuit. For example, when people go to Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat, they don't even know that a state-of-the-art cow-breeding centre known for its work on the Gir variety exists there. So when we put all of these centres on a map it will not only create awareness for tourists, but also compel those living near them to visit. This will also create a marketing opportunity for people selling cow products at these centres. We will also develop these centres as model cow-sheds. We will invite private players interested in investing in these centres or setting up related industries nearby.
This will change people's perception about cow and cow-based industries. It is one of the most viable social business models in the country where you can earn money by taking care of gaumata (cow mother). We are already in conversations with private players who are ready not only to come in tourism but are also interested in setting up bio-fertiliser (units), biogas plants, labs for genetic research and marketing A2 milk (a variety of cow's milk lacking A1 casein proteins that some believe is bad for health, a theory has been generally discredited by scientists).
Will the Aayog also play a role in informing the NDA government’s new push for natural farming? The government proposed this as a strategy to double farmer incomes by 2022. At its core is ‘jeevamrut’, a pesticide mixture of urine and dung from indigenous cows.
One of our mandates is to reduce the cost of farming. If a farmer is rearing two cows, he can make fertiliser from the dung, the urine can be used to make pesticide for at least two-five acres of land. The farmer will not have to buy chemical fertilisers. His input cost will be cut drastically and the milk from the cow will ensure additional income for the family. In the longer term, if we can convince enough farmers to take up zero-budget farming (wherein there is no spending on inputs and thus no need for credit), it will help us cut down India's fertiliser imports.
After the ban on cow slaughter, there has been a rise in bovine-related hate crime. The cattle economy has faced losses in many states, as per news reports. Stray cattle are invading farms and causing losses. What role will the Aayog play in easing this situation?
I do not agree with this. This is absolutely wrong. There must have been one or two incidents of lynching.
Gau rakshaks (cow defenders) help in legal transactions of cows--from the seller’s home to the buyer’s. Mob-lynching took place only in cases where cows were being transported illegally. But even these two-three incidents should not have happened.
We will prevent these incidents by training and sensitizing gau rakshaks so that they also gradually become cow rearers.
What do you propose for the aged cattle that poor farmers cannot afford to maintain?
The most important step is the establishing of shelter houses in large numbers. We have already started making these houses in Uttar Pradesh. Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Act, 1960, all states have formed district SPCAs [Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals, animal welfare centres operated by non-profits in partnership with local administrations] headed by district magistrates. These will be given the mandate to gather stray cattle and put them in shelters. The government will initially provide them financial support.
Gradually, we are hoping that when these cattle are in good shape, people will come and adopt them. We will also experiment with the idea of making these shelters independent by using the available cow dung and urine available there. This will also bring awareness among people that even if a cow is not producing milk, it can help a family earn Rs 400-500 through the sale of its products. This will change society's mindset towards stray cattle. It is a slow process and in the next five years we will try and achieve all this.