Prime Minister Narendra Modi has in recent days hit out at self-styled ‘gau rakshaks’ for “running shops in the name of cow protection”.
Cow protectors, however, flourished in his home state Gujarat when he was the chief minister.
Between 2011 and 2014, the Gujarat government headed by Modi had disbursed Rs 75 lakhs in cash rewards to 1,394 vigilantes for raiding illegal cattle transporters and filing FIRs against them, the website of the government-run Gauseva and Gauchar Vikas Board (GGVB) states.
Almost an equal amount was given to 2,321 shelter providers for the rescued bovines. To provide further motivation to the cow protection volunteers, Rs 3.75 lakh was given to the ‘top performers’, which included recipients of the biennial Best Cow Protector award.
In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Modi also denounced the ‘pink revolution’ (beef exports).
The GGVB was set up under the animal husbandry department in 1999, but remained defunct for almost a decade before Modi revived it in 2010. To make it proactive, his government introduced a slew of schemes, including a cash reward of Rs 500 for every FIR registered against cattle smugglers and transporters. There was even a biennial Best Cow Protector award worth Rs 25,000.
According to its website, the main objective of the GGVB is to “coordinate with groups involved in preventing slaughter of cow and progeny’’ and “effective implementation of cow protection laws”.
The then Modi government also increased the annual grant to the GGVB from Rs 1.5 crore to Rs 150 crore.
In 2011, the state assembly also passed the Gujarat Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act 2011 that made transportation, consumption and sale of cow and progeny illegal. Before the new law was enacted, only slaughter of cows, calves, bulls and bullocks were banned.
Earlier, the penalty for violating the cow protection laws included imprisonment up to one year and fine of Rs 1,000. The amended Act provided jail terms up to seven years or fine of Rs 50,000, or both.
“Of the Rs 150 crore annual grant, Rs 100 crore is spent on developing pastoral lands. The remaining amount is utilised on various cattle welfare and protections schemes,” says GGVB chairman Dr Vallabh Kathiria.
The board’s revival and enactment of the stringent law coincided with the rise in the number of groups involved in cow protection. Currently, 50 such groups are active under the larger Gau Rakshak Dal (GRD) umbrella having roughly 10,000 members.
Modi’s criticism has not been received well by the gau rakshaks.
“The statement of the Prime Minister is like an encouragement to slaughter houses. For the safety of genuine gau rakshaks, the government should start issuing identity cards,” says Mayur Thakkar, president of the state GRD.
According to Thakkar, a Best Cow Protector awardee of 2012, groups affiliated with the GRD have filed roughly 100 cases annually over the last four years.
Neha Patel, probably the only woman Gau Rakshak in Gujarat, feels the PM’s statement that 70-80% vigilantes are anti-social elements is an exaggeration. “There are fake gau rakshaks too, but their percentage would be around 20 and not 80 as mentioned by the PM.”