Will stringent cattle slaughter rules result in depletion of cow breeds in India and eventually, disruption of milk supply? It seems unusual to ask a question like this, because logic dictates that preservation of the cattle population should translate into preservation of cows and more milk. We ask this question because in reality the opposite seems to be happening. The numbers tell us that between 1951 and 2012, the cow and bull population grew by 23 per cent whereas the buffalo population increased by 150 per cent. Another interesting fact is that states with stringent cow slaughter laws have higher buffalo numbers. In Haryana, for instance buffaloes constitute 77 per cent of the cattle population. In Punjab it is 67 per cent, Uttar Pradesh (61 per cent) and Gujarat (51 per cent). On the other hand, states where no bans are in place have a very high share of cow and bull population – Kerala (93 per cent), West Bengal (96.5 per cent) and Assam (91 per cent).
Cows, bulls and buffaloes are reared by farmers and the writing on the wall is clear – they prefer buffaloes. Farmers earn by selling milk and later selling the cattle. According to a study conducted by the National Dairy Development Board, 47 per cent of a dairy farmer’s profits come from selling old animals. Take this away and dairy farming will no longer become a profitable business. All the money made by the farmer by selling milk will have to be used to look after old animals. Farmers moved from cows and bulls to buffaloes because there was no ban on slaughter. When Maharashtra imposed a ban on bull slaughter in 2015, the cost of a buffalo went up for Rs 35,000 to Rs 65,000. Only those farmers who had buffaloes gained and those who had cows and bulls were at a loss.
The new ban on sale of cattle at animal markets for slaughter will not only disrupt the meat and leather industries, it has the potential to gradually destroy the dairy farming economy, and India could go from the world largest milk producer to an importer. At the political level, it might seem expedient to end meat production, but in reality the government could end up killing the dairy industry in the name of animal welfare.
Does the government have the money to buy old animals from dairy farmers and look after them? According to the 19th Livestock census conducted in 2012, there are 5.3 million stray cows and bulls in the country, and the government needs over Rs 11,000 crore to feed them. According to Dr Birham Prakash, director of Central Institute for Research on Cattle, the government will need an outlay of Rs 6.4 lakh crore to shelter and feed unproductive cattle. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Union government hasn’t applied its mind on the slaughter ban and it is on the verge of upsetting a fundamental law of politics: good economics is good politics.