Cows are dying by the thousands in Delhi’s cow shelters, even as protection groups and political parties squabble over saving the ‘holy’ animal.
Data collated by the municipal corporations in Delhi and government cow shelters is startling.
The South Delhi Municipal Corporation sent 3,398 cattle to shelters in 2015-16 and 3,685 died during the same period. In 2014-15, 2,974 cattle were sent and 2,143 died.
The East Delhi Municipal Corporation shared similar figures. Between August and October 2015, 190 cattle were sent to shelters. Of these, 120 died.
The North Delhi Municipal Corporation did not share any data.
Managers of these shelters say most cows and bulls that come to them are either ill or are injured in accidents.
Cows have been in news for over a year. More recently after Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticised self-styled cow-protection groups and said their actions make him angry, and then after 500 died in a shelter in Jaipur.
All the while, Delhi’s stray-cow problem has remained unsolved.
What are these animals that end up on streets?
Ironically, most aren’t cows. According to data available with the five government-aided cow shelters, 80% of all strays they get are bulls and male calves.
Of the remaining 20%, most are old or diseased cows that dairy owners abandon after they stop giving milk. Only a small percentage – shelter managers say 1% to 2% – are milch cows.
Illegal dairies that operate from urban areas abandon those that are useless to them. A few let out milch cows to roam during the day and take them back in the evening.
“The dairy owners do not want to bear the cost of feeding cattle. All the cattle on the road belong to someone. They are not like stray dogs,” said Ruchi Kale, volunteer, Dhyan Foundation an NGO that looks after diseased and injured cows.
In 2002, the Supreme Court ordered authorities to rid Delhi’s streets of cattle and shut all dairies functioning out of urban areas so that abandoned animals won’t not find their way to Delhi’s busy streets.
The order seems to have had little impact.
Once rounded up by the municipal corporations, the bulls, calves and cows are sent to the five government-aided cow shelters.
Over the past few years, however, catching and transporting stray cows has become a risky job.
“Cow-catchers are beaten up and threatened by dairy owners and, more recently, by self styled cow protection groups. It is now a dangerous job,” said a municipal corporation official.