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Maneka Gandhi pens India’s first gaushala manual for protecting cows

Gandhi, who is a Union minister, had drawn up standard operating procedures for the running of cow shelters. The manual though, is not a government initiative, but one she has undertaken as an activist.

india Updated: Dec 26, 2017 08:33 IST
Moushumi Das Gupta
Moushumi Das Gupta
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Maneka Gandhi,Gaushala,Cow protection
According to a 2014 reply in Parliament, there are about 3,030 cow shelters, also known as gaushalas, in the country. Of these, 1,325 are run by various animal husbandry departments of the states.(AP)

There’s cow protection and then there is cow protection, according to Union minister and animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi.

Concerned over the poor upkeep of gaushalas (cow shelters) across India and the high mortality rate of the animals kept there, Gandhi has – in her individual capacity and not that of a minister – penned the country’s first-of- its-kind manual that lays down the standard operating procedures for running such shelters.

In the foreword to her gaushala manual, Gandhi says: “A gaushala may have a mandir (temple) in it venerating the cow, but it rarely has a sick bay in which the animal is treated.”

India had around 122 million cows according to the 19th Livestock Census conducted in 2014. It isn’t clear how many of them find their way to gaushalas which also house bulls, oxen, and buffaloes.

According to a 2014 reply in Parliament, there are about 3,030 gaushalas in country, of which 1,325 are run by various animal husbandry departments of the states. Grants made to gaushalas are covered under the grassland development category of the National Bovine Mission, a scheme predating the Modi government.

“Majority of the gaushalas in the country are poorly run where the old and abandoned animals are herded in one small enclosure. The mortality rate in gaushalas is 10% a month. The idea behind writing the manual is to make such shelters more sensitive to the need of the animals that are sought to be saved and also make them financially viable,” added Gandhi, who holds the women and child development portfolio in the NDA government.

The cow is a holy animal for the Hindus and over the past three years, India has seen an increase in attacks on alleged smugglers by self-styled vigilantes. Their aim is to stop cow smugglers and those who illegally trade in beef (cow slaughter is illegal in several states), but the victims have sometimes been innocent cattle traders and those who skin the carcasses of dead animals. With farmers finding it unviable to look after their non-productive and aged cows, many of these animals land up in gaushalas. Many of these, though, are in poor condition and, until now, there has been no effort to prescribe standards for them.

Exposing how owners manhandle cows in the shelter, Gandhi further writes in the foreword, “After some time gaushalas degenerate into semi dairies. The group controlling the gaushalas starts segregating the milking cows from the old and sick ones. These are fed better, made to breed and the milk is collected and distributed among these people. The calves are often sold on the sly to butchers.”

Gandhi’s manual addresses that gap: from how to construct an animal shelter to the kind of food to be served; from protocols of rescue to disposal of carcasses; from the kind of veterinary services that should be offered to the manufacture of eco-friendly products from cow dung, the document covers it all across 12 chapters.

Gandhi says she will send the manual to gaushalas across the country. She also plans to request government departments such as the one in charge of animal husbandry and agencies such as the Animal Welfare Board of India to adopt the manual.

One of the chapters gives tips on making gaushalas financially viable by using cow dung to produce gobar gas and compost. The manual recommends that gaushalas also approach companies for a portion of their Corporate Social Responsibility funds to finance the creation of modern sheds, biogas plants and solar units.

And since the cow is considered holy, even organising religious discourses on the importance of cows, “gaukathas” by “seers and saints” could help raise funds for gaushalas, according to the manual.

Gaushalas are a concept unique to India. “In other countries when animals grow old they are exterminated. Here we do not kill them but keep them in appallingly unhygienic conditions. The majority of them are run either by individuals or NGOs who depend on donations. With donations drying up over a period of time, the upkeep of such shelters takes a hit,” Gandhi said.

Dr Manilal Valliyate, India CEO, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals welcomed a manual to have SOPs that lay down the basic, non- negotiable standards of running gaushalas.

“The living condition in majority of the shelters, even those run by government agencies are horrifying. The animals are not fed properly, live in unhygienic condition and most do not have qualified veterinarians. The Rajasthan government run Hingonia gaushala is a case in point where last year 500 cows died in ten days,” Dr Valliyate said.

First Published: Dec 26, 2017 08:33 IST