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Thursday, Aug 22, 2019

Bengal govt’s free cow-for-poor scheme draws Opposition criticism

The government has decided to give milch cows to families below poverty line in an initiative that it says will also help accelerate the state’s milk output

india Updated: Nov 16, 2017 17:39 IST
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was accused of joining the ‘cow politics’ bandwagon by her rivals.
Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was accused of joining the ‘cow politics’ bandwagon by her rivals. (IANS photo)

The Bengal government announced a scheme to distribute cows for free to the rural poor, prompting criticism from rivals who called it an attempt to pander to “cow politics” and to lure voters ahead of next year’s panchayat elections.

The Trinamool Congress government said this week that 2,000 milch cattle will be distributed by the end of the year to the poor in an effort to help them and the state’s overall milk output.

The decision comes ahead of panchayat elections set for the middle of 2018.

Bengal animal resource development (ARD) minister Swapan Debnath, however, rubbished opposition criticisms. Speaking to HT, he said the project would begin with the distribution of 2,000 heifers, or young cows.

“There are two conditions to be eligible to receive the heifer absolutely free of cost from state government. First, the family should be in below poverty line (BPL) category. Second, beneficiary family should not have any other source of income. The move has nothing to do with the panchayat polls next year. This is a move to encourage accelerated milk production involving the rural poor,” he said.

He said the project will begin from Birbhum district and slowly spread to other districts. When pointed out that 2,000 heifers will cater at most just around 350 villages, Debnath said, “distribution of 2,000 heifers will be the beginning and this will be an ongoing process,”

On procurement, Debnath said two major heifer-breeding firms owned by the state government at Haringhata in Nadia district and Salboni in West Midnapore district will be the main source. “Apart from that there are some other small heifer-breeding firms in some other districts and we will procure from them also,” he said.

He was unable to specify any budget. “It will be an ongoing project and will require funds as per necessity of the time. There will be no dearth of funds,” he said.

A state ARD official, on condition of anonymity, pointed out that the price of high-quality heifer ranges between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000.

CPI(M) politburo and Lok Sabha member Md Salim told HT the scheme is a “double- ploy” to benefit families of Trinamool cadres as well as to fall in line with the “nasty cow politics that BJP is pursuing throughout the nation”.

Saffron parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party and its Sangh Parivar siblings like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have often made a prominent issue over the protection of cows. Most vigilantes who attack, and at times even kill, people over beef consumption or cattle smuggling pledge allegiance to right-wing Hindu groups.

“Instead of encouraging milk production by involving rural poor through promotion of self-help groups (SHGs), state government is playing this narrow poll-politics to benefit their cadres. Secondly, after successfully helping BJP to import cow politics in Bengal, chief minister, Mamata Banerjee is now adopting the same route eyeing narrow political gains,” Salim told HT.

BJP’s national secretary Rahul Sinha too ridiculed the decision. “Chief minister is now feeling the negative pinch of her earlier policy of excessive minority appeasement. So she is now taking up this route to make a balance somewhere before the panchayat polls. Now it is Godaan (cow donation) and I can guarantee that next move will be Gopujan (cow worship),” Sinha told HT.

According to Congress legislator and state Congress general secretary, Manoj Chakrabarty, this is move is yet another example of Trinamool’s “divisive and destruction political misadventure”.

First Published: Nov 16, 2017 12:35 IST

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