Calcutta Notebook


Why not a Minimum Support price for cows? Hindus believe that blessings of the cow reach one to salvation. However, some selfish individuals would want to kill the cow for meat. The society gave the status of "mother" to the cow to killing of such a wonderful animal that provided both material and spiritual benefits. The cow was "protected" from those few who might want to kill her for meat to the detriment of the larger numbers.

New technologies have changed the situation dramatically since then. It is no longer economic to plough fields with a bullock. Tractors can do this at a fraction of the cost. Water can be drawn from thousands of feet below the earth with tube wells. It is not profitable to draw water from a rahat anymore. And buffalos can provide cheaper milk. These new technologies have made the cow uneconomic. The bullock has been wholly replaced by the machines. The cow has been replaced with buffalo for the provision of milk.

There is one more reason for the cow becoming uneconomic even for the supply of milk. The cow likes to graze in the fields while the buffalo sits at one place. The pressure on land has increased much in the recent times. Common pasture lands have been allotted for social works such as making schools or have been encroached by the strongmen of the village. Thus the space for the cow to graze has shrunk. The cow is not happy sitting at one place. Thus farmers find it economic to keep a buffalo rather than a cow even for the limited purpose of milk production. Thus a study by Central Soil Salinity Research Institute found that a farmer of Karnal earned an income of Rs 7,400 per buffalo per year against Rs 5,100 for cow. Buffalo milk also provides a higher fat content.

The cow now only provides spiritual benefits. The buffalo provides high-fat milk sitting at one place. Her male progeny is no longer useful as all farm operations are now more easily done by tractors, power-tillers, threshers and tube wells. She has become an economic liability for the farmer.

The question is who is to pay the economic costs for deriving the spiritual benefits? The Government is asking the farmers not to sell the cow and the bullock to slaughterhouses. In doing so, it is essentially asking the farmers to bear the cost of maintaining the cow even though maintaining her is economically a loss proposition for him.

Those who worship the cow are not amused. An honest and well-meaning cow vigilantes said, "we must revere the cow just as we revere our parents even if they are an economic liability". True, the soul of India is spirituality and that cannot be compromised for economic gain! But, it is incorrect to pass the burden of cow protection upon the larger society. Those deriving spiritual benefits from the cow must pay for the same. It is yet more unfair to ask the farmer to maintain the cow for providing spiritual benefits to the rest of the society. Two levels of unfairness are involved here. First it is unfair for those deriving spiritual benefits to expect the larger society to bear the costs of maintaining the cow. Second, it is unfair to impose that cost on the farmer.

Indeed, the Government may provide subsidies to protect the cow just as it subsidises Haj or Manasarovar pilgrimages. But then this economic cost has to be borne by the Government on behalf of the whole society. The Government cannot pass this cost to the farmer. He cannot be asked to bear the economic cost of the cow while the larger society reaps the spiritual benefits. Therefore, the Government must institute a Minimum Support Price for cows and bullocks. Just as the Food Corporation of India buys all the wheat that the farmers can produce, similarly the Cow Corporation of India should buy all the cows and bullocks that anyone might want to sell. Just as the Food Corporation may sell the wheat at a loss to ensure nation's food security, similarly, the Cow Corporation of India may sell the milk and the bullock power at a loss to ensure a steady supply of spiritual benefits to the people. But, if the farmer is required to maintain the cow and bear the loss, then it becomes a classic case of taking money from the poor to provide spiritual benefits to the rich. This will not sustain. The farmer will not feed the cow when his own child is hungry. He will find a way out. Farmers are routinely leaving male progeny on the streets as stray animals who ultimately reach the slaughterhouse. The authorities have only made a facade of cow protection.

An alternative is to make it profitable for the farmer to maintain the cow. Take steps to increase the demand for cow milk so that the price increases and it becomes profitable for the farmer to keep cows instead of buffaloes. Cow milk contains more Solid Non Fats (SNF) which is good for health while buffalo milk contains more fat which does not have those qualities. The Government must launch a public education programme in this direction.

The second step is to reduce the cost of cow milk. One important reason for the cow becoming unprofitable is that the bullocks are no longer useful. Allowing the killing of male progeny would reduce the burden on the farmer. Similarly, old cows beyond the age of producing milk may be allowed to be killed. The government will have to take some hard decisions if the country wants to save the cow. Many western countries have made laws that require slaughterhouses to stun the animals into unconsciousness by administering an electric shock, giving carbon-di-oxide gas, or hitting the animal on the head to produce immediate unconsciousness. The pain of death can be reduced by these methods. The consequent reduced cost of production of milk may encourage the farmers to keep cows instead of buffaloes.

Vol. 50, No.26, Dec 31 - Jan 6, 2017