For three days, they stayed under close police watch, guarded day and night by men in khaki. Even when they had breakfast or lunch, the policemen were not too far away, to ensure their charges come to any harm. For three days, they enjoyed the perks and privileges befitting only state guests.
After all, they are prized buffaloes protected under Madhya Pradesh’s 1959 law against transportation and export for slaughter of cattle and their ilk. And the police were duty-bound to provide security to the bovines.
In a case reminiscent of a police hunt for seven stolen buffaloes belonging to Uttar Pradesh minister Azam Khan last year, police in Madhya Pradesh’s Nainpur too found themselves in the unusual role of guarding as many as 201 bovines seized from six people on October 16, sources said.
Nainpur, a small township in tribal-dominated Mandla district, is around 450 km south east of Bhopal.
Police had seized the buffaloes after a complaint lodged by a local outfit, the Shahar Hindu Utsav Samiti, which alleged that the animals were being illegally transported. Madhya Pradesh is ruled by the BJP.
The seizure came amidst a growing demand by a section, including Union minister Maneka Gandhi, for a nationwide ban on slaughter of buffaloes along with cows.
Before the police produced the six people in court, they had to ensure the well-being of the buffaloes, said S Ram Maravi, the town inspector (TI) of Nainpur police station.
“We had a tough time in keeping guard and arranging food for them. As we could not keep them at the police station, they were kept at an open ground nearby and police personnel were deployed to keep guard,” Maravi told HT over phone.
Another policeman said that the besides guarding the buffaloes, the policemen also had to arrange fodder for the buffaloes in morning and graze them at field in the afternoon.
“Though it was shameful for us to graze buffaloes in police uniform, it was our duty to feed and give water to them as the buffaloes were not to be blamed for their detention,” said a policeman on the condition of anonymity.
A local court later released the six people after they produced legal documents to prove their ownership over the buffaloes. However, they were slapped a fine of Rs 50 per buffalo under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
Sources said that the sight of policemen grazing the buffaloes caused some mirth among local residents, who also passed snide remarks. Some others, however, praised the police for their service.
Last year, police in Uttar Pradesh had faced flak from the opposition after they allegedly went out of their way to trace the seven buffaloes of the minister, which were stolen from his farm in Rampur.
For some of the policemen in Nainpur, it was hard work but a learning experience as well.
“It was a new experience for me and I enjoyed it. I learnt how to keep animals,” said one of the cops assigned to guard the bovines.
Another policeman remarked that the buffaloes “went home smiling”.