The Modi government's love affair with cows is on a par with literature's greatest romances. From Rajnath Singh's proud declaration that cows are 80% human, to bans on cow slaughter and the veneration of cow urine, Modi sarkar's devotion to the cow makes Antony and Cleopatra look like a casual fling.
Keeping this in mind, the Modi government's latest scheme related to cows - providing a 12-digit unique identification (UID) number to 88 million cows and buffaloes - will undoubtedly raise eyebrows. But could this be the rare exception where the government's approach to cows is more grounded in sense than saffronism?
Pashu Sanjeevani - Aadhar for cows
Called Pashu Sanjeevani, the scheme to provide UIDs for 88 million cows will see some one lakh technicians fan out across the country tagging cows and buffaloes, and uploading their information into a national database.
On the surface, the scheme is bound to raise the hackles of the anti-Modi brigade. After all, such a move will make it easier for the Modi government to keep tabs on the cow population and police cow slaughter more effectively. This unstated motive is one that is hard to dismiss, especially when you take into account the present dispensation's ongoing drive to completely ban cow slaughter.
This view is furthered by the fact that the move is only targeted at 88 million cows and buffaloes, when the entire population of cattle (buffalo and cow) in the country is closer to the 300 million mark. However, this difference is explained away rather simply by a source within the Department Of Animal Husbandry, Dairying & Fisheries (DAHDF). Speaking to Catch, he clarified that the number is the total number of adult milking cows in the country.
While this still fits in with the Modi government's inordinate focus on protecting cows, he assured us that this initial focus was simply due to a fund crunch. As more funds become available in the next phase, it will extend to all cattle. The focus isn't on all cows either, but just adult milking cows because those are the most prized assets from a dairy/nutritional point of view.
When asked about why the scheme is necessary, and whether the move is meant to help police cow slaughter, the DAHDF official laughs off the claims. "Necessity is to check the animals. If animals are not properly identified, we cannot properly segregate diseased animals from healthy animals," he explains.
How it will work
Starting 1 January, 2017, trained technicians, both government and private, will fan out across the country to tag cows. The polyurethane tags, which will last for a few year, will be affixed by the technicians using a special applicator. Next, the technicians will, using a tablet, upload details of the cow including its vaccination and deworming status into an online database.
While our source mentioned that 1,00,130 technicians will be involved in the project, only half this number are employees of the government or state federations. The remaining are either employed by NGOs or private technicians.
The purpose of the exercise, in the long run, is to improve vaccination practices, and ensure that scientific interventions can be made to improve both breeding and milk production. However, there is a lot in the scheme that doesn't quite add up.
The flaws in the plan
The private technicians will neither be provided tablets to upload the cow bio-data, nor are they paid or even incentivised by the government. Even the applicators required to affix the tags, which will cost around Rs 700, will not be provided to them.
Instead, according to the official, they will work without tablets, collecting data manually before trudging to the nearest available tablet, either at artificial insemination centres, veterinary hospitals or the like, to have it keyed in and uploaded. As for the applicators, they will have to bear the cost of these themselves.
The clincher, though, is the pay. None of these private technicians will be paid and instead will be allowed to recoup their costs from the farmers. When asked whether these costs have been fixed by the government, the official responded in the negative. While mumbling "Rs 10 or Rs 20 per cow," he did concede that the technicians could recoup whatever the farmer was willing to pay.
Given that the scheme seems mandatory, this means the cost of the scheme in a majority of cases will be passed on to farmers. The grey area on pricing and the seemingly compulsory nature of the move could also lead to private technicians taking advantage of vulnerable livestock owners.
There are also questions about how the database will be updated moving forward, after all, farmers themselves will not have either access, or even the resources to access the online database.
And besides, why just cows? Why not goats or camels as well? The official concedes that he has not heard anything on that front. That being said, his mandate only extends as far as cattle, so he admits that it is possible that there is such a scheme that he hasn't heard of.
With all of these questions still unanswered, one wonders whether the real intention is indeed to improve India's dairy sector or, after all, just to further the Modi government's stated aim of banning cow slaughter.