New Delhi: “The setting up of Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog will lead to conservation, protection and development of cattle population in the country including development and conservation of indigenous breeds. It will result in increased growth of livestock sector which is more inclusive, benefitting women, and small and marginal farmers.”
So how does the Aayog, or the ‘National Cow Commission’, constituted in February 2019, plan to fulfil its aims? By reducing the input cost in agriculture through bio-pesticides and fertilisers made of cow dung and urine, increasing milk yield through genetic modification of low-yield cattle and creating new industrial opportunities, including tourism, centred around the cow, commission chairperson Vallabh Kathiria told IndiaSpend in an interview.
“We will bring science and spirituality together to make cow a necessary tool for social transformation, poverty alleviation and to fight climate change,” he said.
The commission will also 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, he said. The central government announced a nationwide ban on cow slaughter in May 2017. It is, however, still legal in Kerala, West Bengal, Arunachal, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim.
Over the last five years, there has been a rise in crimes relating to cow protection. Since 2012, at least 133 cow-related attacks were reported nationwide, leading to 50 deaths and more than 290 injuries, according to a FactChecker.in database that records such attacks. About 98% or 130 of the crimes recorded in the database took place after 2014.
The commission chairperson dismissed these reports, and expressed confidence that all challenges related to cow protection and promotion would be addressed within the next five years.
Kathiria, 64, who belongs to the landowning Patidar community of Gujarat, is a heart surgeon and the owner of a hospital in Rajkot. He joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Hindu nationalist parent organisation of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), when he was in sixth grade. He was picked by the Gujarat wing of the BJP in the late 1990s when it was trying to “change its reputation as a city-centric party”, Kathiria said.
Over the last two decades, he has been elected a member of parliament four times until he quit in 2009. He has handled many portfolios as a cabinet minister including health and family welfare, human resource development, and heavy industry and public enterprise.
In 2009, Kathiria was appointed chairperson of the Gauseva Aayog (cow-welfare commission set up in 1999) in Gujarat and worked on various aspects of cow rearing and cow protection. “Due to my successful work in Gujarat, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi established the Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog at the national level, he chose me to be its chairperson,” said Kathiria.
Edited excerpts of his interview:
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 biofertilisers and biopesticides. 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 the cow's 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.
There are more than 40 ministries where we can integrate cow services in some form or the other.
At 199 million, India has 14.5% 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. There is no lack of money, only coordination. The Aayog will bridge this gap.
Of the 199 million cattle in India, 83% or 166 million are indigenous and of these, only 20% belong to breeds recognised by the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources. How do you plan to use the remaining 80%, consisting of nondescript, low-yield breeds?
These nondescript cows are mostly cross-breeds of two or more indigenous breeds. So we should not face any barrier in cross-breeding them with high-yield breeds. It will be a slow process, genetically improving them, but it can be done. Through genetic tests, first we will identify the dominating breed among these nondescript cows. So if a nondescript (breed) is made of Gir and Kankrej (both indigenous breeds of Gujarat) we will ascertain the dominating breed and then say, if it has more properties of the Gir breed, we will improve it with semen from a Gir bull. But for all of this to happen we will have to bring in many changes to strengthen the research. We will also have to change the mindset of veterinary doctors so that they give indigenous breeds importance in cross-breeding over foreign breeds like Jersey and Holstein.
Does the government have a plan for a national-level mapping and database development on the number of indigenous breeds?
Yes, we are continuously trying to identify these nondescript breeds and also map the new ones. For example, we have recently mapped a new breed in Gujarat's Dang region.
Poor nutrition/feed management, inferior farm management practices, ineffective veterinary and extension services are factors that keep cattle productivity low in India, Rana Kapoor, the CEO of Yes Bank, wrote in The Hindu in 2014. How does the Aayog plan to solve these problems?
So, I have already told you about how we will improve the genetics of our low productive cows. Beyond that we will also set-up training programmes in all Krishi Vigyan Kendras (assistance centres for farmers). These programmes will include basic training related to the health and nutrition of cattle. These alone can help farmers increase milk production by 3-4 kg in just a couple of years. Availability of fodder is a big issue in our country, we will try and address it. We will try and seek industry-level solutions. This is one area where entrepreneurs can be encouraged to set-up factories for large-scale production.
Dairy farmers in India incur an average annual loss of Rs 21,000 to Rs 25,000 per head of cattle due to foot and mouth disease. Over two years to 2018, there has been a 262% increase in the number of animals that had the disease and a 36% rise in the number of fatalities caused by it. A United Nations presentation estimated losses of over Rs 20,000 crore--and a trade embargo--caused by the disease in 2011. How will you tackle this?
India has been paying enough attention in this direction. It is a viral disease, and we keep getting news about episodes of this disease but India has already vaccinated its cattle population for it. So, we don’t have a high risk of the disease. Vaccines are also easily available. The disease is not as widespread as it used to be when I was growing up.
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 biofertiliser (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 2-5 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 sensitising 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.
(Tripathi is an IndiaSpend reporting fellow.)
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