Harish Damodaran

What Pink Revolution?

HARISH DAMODARAN | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on April 06, 2014

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Rather than protecting the cow, the Sangh Parivar is only hastening the process of ‘buffaloisation’

It is unfortunate that the cow has once again taken centre-stage in political discourse, with insinuations that a Centre-promoted ‘pink revolution’ is endangering India’s cattle population.

In recent poll campaign speeches, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi claimed that those owning slaughterhouses and exporting cow meat are being given subsidies and tax breaks.

The country, according to him, wants a Green and White Revolution, but the government in Delhi is only interested in a Pink Revolution: “When animals are slaughtered, the colour of their flesh is pink”.

A different meat

I don’t know whether cow meat is being exported illicitly from India. What is going out officially at least is only buffalo meat, with 11.08 lakh tonnes of shipments in 2012-13 fetching $ 3.2 billion. The latter figure would have touched $ 4.5 billion in the fiscal just ended, making India the world’s No. 1 beef exporter.

All this is, however, meat from buffaloes, not cattle.

If cow meat isn’t being officially exported, can those doing it clandestinely be benefiting from fiscal incentives? Quite unlikely.

The wrong target

Modi and the Sangh Parivar may be right about depleting cattle numbers. The country’s total cattle population did fall from 204.58 million to 199.08 million between the 1992 and 2007 Livestock Censuses.

Where they are completely off the mark, though, is in blaming this on evil slaughterhouse owners and meat export with a conniving Centre.

The real ‘culprit’, instead, is the Indian farmer. Sounds preposterous?

Well, a dispassionate analysis would reveal it is the farmer’s rational choices that are leading to increased ‘buffaloisation’, reducing the cow in the process to little more than a venerated gomata.

Farmers traditionally reared cattle for three main purposes.

The first was for draught – the cow being the mother of bullocks that ploughed the farmer’s fields and pulled his cart. The second was for dung used both as manure for fertiliser application and as fuel. The third was for milk.

With the advent of tractors, diesel engines and electric motors, the estimated share of draught animals in the total power deployed in Indian farms has dropped from around 53 per cent in 1971-72 to just above 5 per cent now.

Likewise, with crop nutrient requirements increasingly being met by chemical fertilisers — and only 10.9 per cent of rural households using dung-cake as cooking fuel, going by the 2011 general Census — the second reason for maintaining cattle has also been undermined.

Cow economics

As a result, the utility of cattle for farmers is today largely restricted to being milk-producing machines.

That explains why despite overall cattle numbers falling, the adult females within them — namely cows — have gone up from 64.36 to 72.95 million between 1992 and 2007.

But even as milch animals, there is competition to cows from buffaloes, which produce milk with twice the fat content and higher price realisation.

Roughly 53 per cent of India’s total bovine milk output in 2011-12 came from buffaloes. Even within the balance 47 per cent from cows, nearly 54 per cent was accounted for by cross-breds containing genetic material of ‘western’ cattle stock such as Holstein Friesian, Jersey and Brown Swiss.

Indigenous desi cattle — the true Holy cows — produce just over a fifth of the country’s milk.

That being the case, the choice before farmers is essentially between exotic cross-bred cattle yielding more milk and buffaloes that give milk of higher value – both not particularly holy options.

Buffaloes have an added advantage of being reasonably good draught animals, especially in the current context where most tillage and field operations are anyway performed by tractor-drawn implements.

To the extent animal draught application is limited to carrying load, buffaloes even score over their bovine cousins. A single male buffalo can easily lug 25 quintals over 10-15 km, whereas cattle bullock cannot do beyond 15 quintals or so.

Buffalo nation

No wonder, the share of cattle in India’s bovine population has declined from 78 per cent to 65 per cent since Independence. The fall is sharper in respect of milch animals (see chart).

Moreover, the all-India figure doesn’t tell the whole story.

While buffaloes make up 34.6 per cent of the country’s total bovines, the proportions are higher for Haryana (79.3), Punjab (74), Uttar Pradesh (55.8), Andhra Pradesh (54.2), Gujarat (52.4), Rajasthan (47.8) and Bihar (34.8).

Most of these are states where the cow is specially revered. On the other hand, the buffalo percentages are just 3.2 in Kerala, 3.8 in West Bengal and 4.6 in the North-East states – which have no blanket laws prohibiting cow slaughter!

The irony of more buffaloes in the Hindi heartland — the so-called Cow Belt — is best exemplified by Mathura. This district of Uttar Pradesh houses Gokul and Vrindavan, the holy sites of Lord Krishna’s early life centered around cows, milk and gopis.

In the 2007 Livestock Census, there were 722,854 buffaloes in Mathura, as compared to a mere 141,326 cattle.

Such outnumbering of cattle clearly has nothing to do with slaughter houses. The blame, if at all, should go to Mathura’s farmers who, through their marked preference for buffaloes, have ensured there aren’t enough cows for slaughtering in the first place.

A rational solution

If the gomata has to be saved, the focus ought to be on incentivising farmers to keep cattle. By using it as a political tool to target familiar enemies, the Sangh Parivar is only hastening the process of buffaloisation.

The buffalo wins hands down in the farmer’s calculations because there is no religious taboo on its slaughter. Farmers typically sell their buffaloes after 5-6 calvings when milk yields start tapering. These animals — and bulk of the young male progeny — head to the slaughter house.

There is no such flexibility when it comes to cows. The more stringent the laws prohibiting slaughter, the less inclined farmers are to rear cattle. Why venture into it when there is no viable mechanism for disposing animals that have stopped giving milk or happen to be male? The farmer is ultimately under no obligation to shoulder the cultural burden of saving the gomata without any compelling economic rationale.

The gomata surely deserves protection, but not so much for religious reasons as the need to conserve precious germplasm from our finest indigenous cattle breeds: Sahiwal, Tharparkar, Rathi, Red Sindhi, Gir, Kankrej and Ongole.

These valuable animal genetic resources are now getting lost, thanks to a combination of random breeding (most of our desi cattle are ‘nondescript’, having no recognisable pedigree or breed characteristics), unregulated slaughtering and growing buffaloisation.

It would hurt to know that the best breeding tracts and organised farms for the Sahiwal and Tharparkar cattle are today found in Pakistan.

We must move to a system that enables culling of unproductive and undesirable cattle, both from a farmer’s as well as organised breeding/genetic upgradation perspective.

This, along with a policy of strict licencing and regulation of slaughterhouses, can allow the White and Pink revolutions to co-exist. Far from being in conflict, they are mutually beneficial.

If only those shedding crocodile tears for the gomata understood this.

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Published on April 06, 2014
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