Vultures hover overhead, cackling hyenas gnaw at hundreds of carcasses and a putrid stench of decomposing flesh draw attention to an elevated area in the Aravalli hills of drought-battered eastern Rajasthan. It’s the graveyard of abandoned cattle.
The grim situation at Kochar village of Sawai Madhopur district belies the government’s promise and push to protect cows and bulls as severe drought over the past 45 days have forced people to simply abandon their cattle on a flat, barren and rocky hilltop.
The site, about 30 km long and 7 km wide, is where Kochar is located along with 25 other villages — many of them deserted as seven ponds that fed the area have dried up this year. Cows need at least 70 litres of water a day.
Bereft of vegetation, fodder and water, the forsaken cattle — mostly old and feeble — were dying by the dozen and becoming food for scavengers such as vultures and hyenas. A survey by the administration showed around 800 cows were abandoned there, and half of them have perished already.
“There is always some water and scrub vegetation on which the cows survive. But this year, many died because of the water and food shortage,” said Ramkesh Gurjar of nearby Khad Satolai village, about 120 km east of Jaipur.
The deaths have triggered a political slugfest between the opposition Congress and the BJP government in the state, which has a dedicated department for cow protection called directorate of Gaupalan.
“The BJP stands fully exposed. The Congress never makes cow a political issue but the BJP seeks votes in the name of cows and temples. But where is the BJP government when cows are dying in thousands?” asked Rajasthan unit Congress chief Sachin Pilot.
He visited the area about a month ago and had apparently prodded the government to take action.
The Congress pointed to the cattle deaths after the Vasundhra Raje government on Tuesday transferred a police officer in Pratapgarh for arresting members of a vigilante group, Gau Raksha Dal, for stripping and assaulting people transporting cows.
Rajasthan has banned the sale and slaughter of cows, considered sacred in Hinduism, while vigilantes have stepped up efforts to enforce the prohibition.
For its part, the government dismissed allegations of laxity. Instead, gaupalan or cow welfare minister Otaram Dewasi accused the Congress of politicising the issue. “As soon as we came to know of cows dying, I spoke to the collectors and sought a report. Based on their report, we sanctioned Rs 1 crore,” he said.
The former additional district magistrate of Karauli, Mahavir Singh Rajpurohit, backed the minister’s claim. “The situation got aggravated because the area received only one-third the normal rainfall in the past two years,” he said.
Besides funds, fodder was on the way too. Radha Krishna Gaushala in Sawai Madhopur has been authorised to route the fodder supply, district collector Anandhi said.
A resident of Sawai Madhopur, who first initiated relief work, thanked the administration for its supportive. “It donated money that helped us get fodder and water tankers. The gaushalas also sent fodder. Earlier, 50-60 cows were dying daily but now 4-5 cows are dying,” said Mahesh Chaprana.
The Congress was not convinced, though. The party’s state unit secretary, Danish Abrar, said the government took more than a month to release funds and send the first fodder truck.