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They raid our fields, rob our sleep, say UP farmers as stray cattle crisis escalates

twitter-logoPTI | April 24, 2019 | Updated 13:33 IST

By Uzmi AtharUzmi Athar Hathras (UP), Apr 24 (PTI) Polls, politicians and promises are a match made in electoral heaven, but voting day has come and gone and so has the slender hope that something would be done about marauding stray cattle that is robbing villagers of their crops – and their sleep. The problem has snowballed into a major crisis across large swathes of Uttar Pradesh, said many farmers who spend their nights perched on ‘machans’ , keeping vigil to ensure their fields are not run over by hordes of stray cattle. The animals raid fields and devour the crops at night, said Bhole Lal, a farmer in Hathras, who claimed he has not slept for more than a few hours a night for the last year. According to 19th Live Stock Census of 2012, there are around 10,09,436 stray cattle in Uttar Pradesh. The number of milch animals (in-milk and dry) in cows and buffaloes has increased from 111.09 million to 118.59 million, an increase of 6.75 per cent. Uttar Pradesh has 6.87 crore livestock. “Just a few nights back,10 to 12 stray cows entered my farm. When I tried to shoo them away, they trampled most of the crop,” said Lal, a farmer in Akrabad village in Hathras district. While Lal’s constituency, Hathras, voted in the second phase on April 18, elections go on till May 19. The votes will be counted on May 23. Many villagers said they had no hope of an early solution to their problems. Elections, some said, at least hold out the promise of someone listening to their grievances. Lal, 72, is now building a temporary fence with babool tree branches and scratches from the thorny plant are visible on his hands. “I cannot afford a wire fence. For now, I think it might help,” Lal said, adding that this is harvest season and he cannot take any chances now. Lal’s story is shared by farmers cutting across party lines and castes. They said the menace of stray cattle got worse after March 2017 when the BJP-led Yogi Adityanath government came to power and the fear of cow vigilante groups increased. In 2017, Adityanath clamped down on licensed and unlicensed slaughterhouses and on the smuggling of cattle for slaughter, leading to a massive increase in the number of stray cattle in the region, the farmers said. “The cattle menace was there earlier too but not to this extent,” said Vijay Kumar, who owns land next to Lal in the same village. “Since the slaughter of cows is not an option any longer, many farmers leave the cattle to fend for themselves when they stop giving milk. These stray cows raid our farms in search of food and destroy and devour our crops,” he said. Kumar said he understands the government’s compulsion to stop cow slaughter but stressed that proper arrangements should have been made to take care of the problem. His vote, he asserted, was not for who would be prime minister but for which party could solve the menace. “We cannot afford labour. We only have to take care of our farms and keeping an eye on it for 24 hours is not possible,” the 34-year-old farmer said. Kumar said he had always voted for BJP but had second thoughts after the way the stray cattle issue escalated. “I grew wheat on my land. Half of it was destroyed by stray cattle in the last few months. We have complained several times to government officials to keep them in a cow shelter but to no use,” he said. Many villagers said they have a problem not just with the state government but also with the Centre for not living up to its promises. “When will the promises made for our prosperity in 2014 be fulfilled. We don’t want more promises we want their fulfilment,” said Hari Kumar, a 58-year-old Jat farmer from Jarauli Hirasingh in Aligarh district. He recalled the electoral promises made by both Adityanath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to fix the minimum support price for their crops and ensuring their interests would be safeguarded. Jamuna Bai, a 58-year-old peppermint farmer at Kauriaganj in Aligarh district, said they are just able to grow enough crops to feed her family because of the cattle menace. “The fear of police action and vigilante groups prevent us from using force against the raiding cattle. But for how long can it continue like this,” Jamuna asked, noting that even transporting her cattle on tractor has become a matter of terror because of cow vigilantism in the area. Her vote this time was for change, she said. Some farmers from the Jat village of Jaroli Hira Singh in Hathras district admitted that sold their unwanted cattle to butchers. “It would help us earn some money, and also kept the stray cattle population in check. What do we do with cattle that have outlived their productivity? Who do we feed? Our family or the cattle?” asked one farmer, speaking on the condition of anonymity. A high power committee appointed by the Uttar Pradesh government earlier this year recommended a slew of steps, including establishment of a fodder bank to overcome the problem, said Prof K M L Pathak, chairperson of the committee and vice chancellor of the Deen Dayal Veterinary University. Suggesting that the state government grant Rs 100 per animal per day to stray cattle sheds, it sought to make it obligatory for lawmakers to provide support to the sheds from their funds. But farmers are still waiting for action on the recommendations. PTI UZM MIN MIN

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