Lucknow: What could be more ironic than the fact that while distressed farmers in the state are clamouring for protection from stray cattle, a problem that has assumed menacing proportions with crops worth crores of rupees being lost due to it, the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh has set aside an unprecedented over Rs 600 crore for the protection and welfare of cows in the State Budget for 2019-20.
It's a different matter that top government functionaries mouth sympathies for farmers as Lok Sabha elections are round the corner and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has already paid a price in terms of three state governments in the recent polls for ignoring farmers' issues.
With the growing trouble among farmers in Uttar Pradesh over stray cattle ruining their harvest, the spectre could result in a possible backlash in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Naturally, there is anxiety in the state's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership.
Old and abandoned cattle that are being set free because they are no longer of any use, have become a terror for people as they destroy crops and fields and add to the agony of already distressed farmers.
As for the government that had vowed to protect the 'gau mata' and banned slaughter houses, it appears to have given farmers a short shrift. The budget also proposes Rs 247.60 crore for maintenance and construction of gaushalas in the rural areas.
Malkhan Chauhan, a small farmer in Darveshpur (Barabanki), some 55 km from here, told IANS how his 3-bigha farm land had been devastated by stray cattle. "I spent a lot of money for seeds and fertilisers, and now the cattle menace have forced me to shell out another Rs 10,000 to fence the field to protect the crop," said an upset Chauhan.
A frustrated Ranjeet Maurya (40) in neighbouring Kanhaipur who lost his crop to the menace criticised the Yogi Adityanath government for his troubles. "Yogi ordered closure of slaughter houses, now see what's happening," he said and added cow vigilantes and Hindu outfits should "adopt ten cows each". Crops of potato, wheat and mustard have been destroyed by the stray bulls and cows in his village, he said.
Many cattle has also been abandoned due to growing mechanisation of farming. Rizwan Ahmad, a dairy owner in Hariharnagar, said once the cows go dry (stop giving milk) they are thrown out by farmers. "What else do we do of them?" he asked.
Many Muslim milk sellers like Ahmad Ali, a dairy owner in Chinhat, said his community is scared. "We hear stories about members of the community being roughed up for transporting cows," he said. They can neither keep a large number of animals nor abandon them, he added.
That the cattle menace has taken centre-stage for many farmers can be gauged from the fact that in many parts of the state, angry farmers have locked up cattle in schools, hospitals, community health centres. Their demand: fix this menace. Their threat: face music at the hustings.
The government has expedited building cattle shelters and 'gau shaalas' but the bureaucratic inertia seems to have retarded the pace. Thus the state missed the January 10 deadline set by the Chief Minister Adityanath for district magistrates to shift stray cattle to these shelters. Penal action has also been sought against cattle owners who abandon or lock them up in public properties.
"The chief minister is serious about the issue. Many steps are being taken to tackle the problem", additional chief secretary (Information) Awanish Kumar Awasthi told IANS.
There are 510 registered cow shelters in the state. According to a 2012 government data, there were around two crore cows in the state. Adityanath has also called for a fresh census and allocated funds for that.
Animal Husbandry Minister S.P. Singh Baghel agrees that there is a problem, but claimed "a solution is on the way". However, he pointed out that the number of stray cattle was also a reflection of the staggering number that was being slaughtered before the ban."
Samajwadi Party (SP) spokesman Abdul Hafiz Gandhi said the BJP government has "misplaced priorities" and predicted that farmers' anger "would cost them dear" in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The state government has also levied a 0.5 per cent tax Cow Protection Cess on eight government departments, including the cash-rich excise department.