Bulls punished for sins of Gau Rakshaks?

Chandigarh: The so-called cow vigilantes and the knee-jerk orders that hamper the free flow of cattle  have caused a major problem in Punjab: a rapid increase in abandoned cattle that roam the streets as strays.

The Punjab government today approved a plan for bull sterilisations to tackle the threat of stray cattle, prompting members of the cattle trade and the leather and sports goods industries to accuse it of skirting the underlying problems.

Punjab rears cattle largely for sale to other states and to the leather industry. But this Rs 2,500-crore industry has taken a hit because of tightened inter-state export rules, cow vigilantism, demonetisation and the goods and services tax that has increased the levy on raw materials.

The decreasing viability of the trade has prompted traders and farmers to abandon their cattle, leading to an increase in strays and a spurt in road accidents that prompted the government decision. But the traders and industry say that instead of addressing their problems, the government is resorting to piecemeal gestures.

“There used to be only a 2 per cent central sales tax on imported leather. After GST, we have to pay 5 per cent tax on raw materials,” Jagjit Singh Paul, Punjab Leather Federation president, said.

Extortionists masquerading as cow vigilantes have been attacking cattle traders, forcing many to shut shop. The former Akali-BJP government last year made a slew of no-objection certificates mandatory for the export of each consignment of cattle to other states.

“Since then, the cattle market has been in a slump. A farmer spends around Rs 80,000 to raise a milch cow but the selling price has fallen to Rs 60,000 from Rs 1 lakh,” a dairy owner near Amritsar said.

A trader said: “Sterilisation is not the answer. Unless the Centre and the state find a middle path on cow slaughter, the menace of stray cattle will continue.”