The Uttar Pradesh government’s decision to charge gau kalyan (cow welfare) cess in order to protect stray cattle has understandably been questioned in many circles. The cess will be collected through a 0.5 per cent additional levy on excise items, which may include alcohol, and a levy on toll tax collected by government agencies and on profits made by public sector firms and other agencies. The funds collected through such a cess will be used to construct and maintain cow shelters across the state as the government feels that stray cattle are not being looked after properly.
It is estimated that there are over 5 million stray cows in the country. They roam the streets of villages, towns and even metros, and destroy crops in their wake. The problem has compounded in recent years after the government strengthened laws against cow slaughter. In some cases angry farmers have chased away cows in order to protect their crops. The situation is particularly bad in Uttar Pradesh. Just weeks ago, hundreds of cows were locked up in a school and a primary health centre in Aligarh. A similar incident happened in Mathura because of which a school had to be shut down for two days.
While the UP government’s decision to charge the cess has been done to protect cows—revered in India—the administration would do well to address the real issues regarding strays. The reason why the problem has multiplied is because of the almost free run given by many state governments to cow vigilantes. These right- wing groups, often with the connivance of the police, have attacked cattle traders, in some cases even lynching them.
The most glaring example of such vigilantism was the case of Pehlu Khan, a cattle trader from Nuh in Haryana, who was murdered by a mob in Alwar, Rajasthan, in 2017. Even though he had a permit to transport cattle, he was lynched. The government should tackle this problem first before burdening the taxpayer in the name of protecting cows.