Akali way of appeasing ally BJP: cow cess on liquor, marriage halls
If you're in Punjab and want to buy liquor or a vehicle, or even plan to get married, be ready to shell out some extra money - in the name of the Holy Cow.
The Parkash Singh Badal regime is working on a proposal to levy a "cow cess" through civic bodies across the state. While this is supposedly meant for the "welfare of cattle", the real aim isn't hidden from anyone: the Akalis are out to appease their ally BJP.
The government proposes to levy a cess of Rs 1,000 on the purchase of a four-wheeler, Rs 500 on a two-wheeler, and Rs 100 on an oil tanker; 2 paise on the consumption of per unit of electricity; Rs 1,000 on the booking of an air-conditioned marriage hall and Rs 500 on a non AC one; Re 1 per bag of cement, Rs 10 per bottle of Indian Made Foreign Liquor, Rs 5 per bottle of beer and country-made liquor.
"There's nothing wrong being done," declares Keemti Lal Bhagat, chairman of Punjab Gau Sewa Commission. "The cess is being imposed in accordance with the Cow Slaughter Act of 1955."
The Act states, "There shall be established by the government or by any local authority, when so directed by the government, institutions for the reception, maintenance and care of uneconomic cows. The state government or the local authority, if so authorised, may levy such fees as may be prescribed for care and maintenance of uneconomic cows in the institution."
According to Bhagat, Punjab has 472 cow shelters, which take care of 2.79 lakh cows. "Still, there are 1.6 lakh stray cows on the roads," he tells Catch. "In the last two years, 285 people have lost heir lives in accidents on account of these stray cattle. Imagine what will be the plight of people if those cows in the gau shalas were also on the roads."
Most of the cow shelters, Bhagat says, are run by NGOs and other non-state institutions at "huge" daily expense. The Punjab Municipal Corporation Act, 1976 puts the onus of taking care of stray cattle on civic bodies. Accordingly, the government proposes to impose the cess in areas covered by 10 municipal corporations and 156 municipal councils.
Batting for RSS
Political observers describe the move as the government furthering the RSS' agenda being pursued by their ally BJP. Anil Joshi, the local bodies minister who is leading the move, is from the BJP.
The observers point out that cow protection was never on the agenda of the Badal regime until June 2012, when a 15-year-old animal bone crushing unit at Joga village in Mansa was burnt down by a mob, angered by rumours of
cow slaughter at the unit.
To appease Hindu voters, Badal met Bhagat and proposed a "cow memorial" at Joga. The chief minister also directed the then police chief Sumedh Singh Saini to investigate all "cases pertaining to cow slaughter pending at different levels to ensure strictest punishment as per the law".
The government was about to spend Rs 5 crore on building the "Rashtriya Shaheedi Gau Smarak", when the plan was scuttled by the Joga panchayat. The villagers said the memorial would create communal tensions in the area "as it would become a playground for forces wanting to rake up the issue of cow slaughter again and again". They also said it would be a "blot" on their village.
This is the context, and not declarations about "cow welfare", in which the cess has to be seen. "The proposed cess is a move by the government to give some sort of recognition to BJP's agenda. This wouldn't otherwise have been possible since a majority of local civic bodies are dominated by Sikhs," says Beant Singh, who has been researching Punjab's agrarian issues.
Wasting public money
Not just the cess, the state also wants to set aside plots in village common lands for gau shalas. Political commentator Malvinder Malli, who runs an organisation called Pind Bachao Andolan, describes this as "yet another whimsical" move by the Badal regime. "They have no clear policy. This is just a move aimed at appeasing the Hindu vote bank and fulfilling the BJP agenda. They give free power to gau shalas and make people pay for all this," he says.
AAP leader Kanwar Sandhu say the cow cess is a "fit case of bankruptcy of ideas and bad economics". Nobody disputes that cows and other cattle must be protected, he points out, but it can't be done by collecting money through taxes from ordinary people, who are reeling from rising prices of essential commodities.
"The Badal government had earlier levied education cess and sports cess on liquor. However, the cess collected from the sale of liquor was never utilised for the promotion of education and sports as was being claimed," he alleged.
In the same way, Sandhu added, the SAD-BJP regime at the fag end of its second term, would squander public money collected by levying cow cess. Badal, he alleged, might even use this money on his Sangat Darshans, and to distribute among his favourite sarpanches.
"I don't think they will utilise the cess money for the protection and upkeep of cows. Had they been serious about the condition of cows, they would have built enough cow shelters in the nine years of their rule," Sandhu said.
He added, "When AAP forms the government in Punjab, we will formulate a comprehensive policy for the upkeep and protection of cows and other cattle. But we won't burden the common man by levying more taxes."