Stray cattle are a major issue in some states with large cattle population. They cause inconvenience both in urban & rural areas. Data from the 2019 Livestock census indicates that while the number of stray cattle decreased at the national level, it increased in some key states.
Data related to livestock is significant as it helps in the planning, and formulation of programs for the sector. This becomes especially important that has a significant share of the population is still dependent on the rural economy. The Livestock Census in India is conducted by the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying and is the main source of the data related to this sector. The Census which essentially covers domesticated animals like livestock and poultry was first conducted in 1919 and has been conducted on a quinquennial basis since then. The findings of the census become the primary basis for multiple stakeholders such as agriculturists, traders, entrepreneurs, and the dairying industry.
20th Livestock Census Report was published in 2019
The latest Livestock Census report that was published in 2019 is the 20th such report. It was carried out in about 6.6 lakh villages and 89,000 urban wards across the country covering more than 27 crore households and non-households. The 19th livestock census was conducted in the year 2012.
The Livestock Census tracks the population of various species of domesticated animals such as cattle, buffalo, sheep, goat, mithun, yak, pig, horse, pony, mule, donkey, and poultry birds such as fowl, duck, emu, etc. In 2019, it was for the first time that the Census was conducted online using tablet computers. In the 2019 Census, the data released for Delhi is from 2012 as the census operations were not complete.
The stray cattle issue has been discussed in Parliament
In some states, legislation banning the slaughtering of cattle is known to have resulted in farmers abandoning their cattle in certain places, once the animal loses the ability to produce milk, and stops being useful. Such stray cattle, in the absence of shelter, cause damage to crops in rural areas and cause traffic disruptions in urban areas. Data on the number of stray cattle across states is provided in the census report. The issue of stray cattle and whether their number has increased over the years because of legislation & other reasons has been raised in the Parliament multiple times.
Legislations vary across states
Legislations pertaining to the slaughtering of cattle are enacted in all states except Kerala, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland. Among UTs, Lakshadweep does not have any legislation. These legislations vary across states in terms of age & type of cattle that can be slaughtered, the requirement of a certificate, and the relevant penal provisions. For instance, the state of Rajasthan bans the slaughter and export of all Bovine which includes cow, calf, heifer, bull, or bullocks. Rigorous imprisonment between 1 to 2 years and a fine up to Rs. 10,000 has been prescribed for contravening the provisions of the law. Meanwhile, the state of Odisha prohibits the slaughter of cows, including heifers and calves. It also requires a fit-for-slaughter certificate if cattle are over 14 years of age or have become permanently unfit for breeding, or draught. The punishment is imprisonment up to a maximum of 2 years or a fine up to Rs 1,000 or both.
Stray cattle numbers have dropped by 5% in 2019 as compared to 2012
The stringent penal provision in the law and the resource required to maintain the unproductive cattle were expected to increase the number of stray cattle in the country. However, at the national level, the number of stray cattle in the country has reduced to 50.21 lakhs as per the 2019 census, from 52.88 lakhs as per the 2012 livestock census. In other words, the number of stray cattle reduced by about 5% in the seven years.
Of the 50.21 lakhs stray cattle in the country as of 2019, 25.4% were in Rajasthan (12.7 lakh), followed by 23.6% in Uttar Pradesh (11.84 lakhs). Along with Madhya Pradesh, the three states alone account for almost 66% of the stray cattle in the country. The states of Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, and Haryana have more than one lakh stray cattle each and together accounted for 23.9% of the stray cattle in the country, as per the 2019 livestock census. West Bengal, Bihar, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu with more than 50,000 stray cattle each accounted for more than 1% of the stray cattle each.
7 of the 10 states with the greatest number of stray cattle have recorded an increase
Compared to the 2012 livestock census data on stray cattle, 7 of the 10 states with the greatest number of stray cattle, viz; Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, and Haryana have recorded an increase in the number of stray cattle in 2019. Furthermore, the states of Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, where the slaughter of cows and their progeny including bulls & bullocks of all ages is banned have all witnessed an increase in stray cattle in the range of 9% to 65%. Meanwhile, in the states of Kerala, Meghalaya where there aren’t slaughter laws, there has been a drop in the number of stray cattle in 2019 as compared to 2012.
In order to get a clearer picture, we compare the percentage of stray cattle to total milch cattle in 2012 and 2019 as this would account for the actual change in the proportion of stray cattle. The absolute numbers of stray cattle would be misleading as states with a large cattle population are expected to have a large stray cattle number as well.
Stray Cattle is less than 1% in 19 states/UTs
In 2012, the share of stray cattle was less than 1% in 16 states/UTs which increased to 19 states/UTs by 2019. There were six states each in 2012 and 2019 where the share of stray cattle was between 1% to 3% and 3% to 5% each. The number of states/UTs with more than 10% share of stray cattle has dropped to two (Goa and Daman & Diu) in 2019 from four in 2012 (Odisha, Chandigarh, Goa, and Daman & Diu).
It must be noted that the 2012 data for Andhra Pradesh included that of Telangana before the bifurcation of the state in 2014.
The share of stray cattle has increased more than 1% in MP, Rajasthan, and Punjab
At the national level, the share of stray cattle compared to the total cattle population was 2.94% in 2012 which reduced to 2.57% in 2019. Among the states/UTs, Odisha recorded a decline of more than 16.5% while West Bengal and Bihar recorded a decline of 3.11% and 1.55%, in the share of stray cattle compared to the total cattle population between 2012 & 2019.
A total of 14 states/UTs registered a decline including Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Jharkhand. On the other hand, 20 states/UTs recorded an increase in the share of stray cattle. While the increase was marginal (<1%) in most states, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Punjab recorded an increase of more than 1%.
What are governments doing about the issue?
Stray cattle cause inconvenience to the citizens, both in urban and rural areas. Apart from the inability to slaughter stray cattle due to stringent laws, the preference of farmers and breeders for certain breeds of cattle and neglect of other indigenous breeds is also a reason behind the abandoning of cattle.
At the national level, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) is implementing schemes for providing grants to the recognized Animal Welfare Organizations including gaushalas for creating new shelters as well as for maintaining stray cattle. The AWBI is also providing assistance for feed &fodder, ambulance, and treatment of animals to the recognized Animal Welfare Organizations and gaushalas. Certain states are also implementing their own programs to protect stray cattle such as Madhya Pradesh where “Mukhya Mantri Gau Seva Yojna” is being implemented. The government of Chhattisgarh has been implementing the ‘Godhan Nyay Yojana’ under which new gaushalas would be built. The scheme also includes the procurement of cow dung from the owners.
Stray cattle are a major issue in many states. While the reduction of stray cattle at the national level is encouraging, an increase in the share of stray cattle in certain states is a cause for concern. It is important that states, where this is a major problem, start implementing dedicated programs to provide shelter for these animals along with incentives for cattle owners.
Featured Image: Number of Stray Cattle