Filmed by Jyotsna Singh. Produced by Tom Griggs. Edited by Trixia Abao
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Conservative Hindus in India revere cows as near deities. But here in rural Madhya Pradesh, a state in the heartland of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party, stray cattle are fast becoming a menace.
In the past, ageing animals have been sold for slaughter, valued for both their meat and leather. But in 2004 the state government passed a law banning the slaughter of any cattle. Now unwanted animals are abandoned in villages or by the roadside, often under cover of darkness, and have become a major rural nuisance. It's a problem that is only likely to get worse as the government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi encourages similar bounds in other states. A move that is wildly popular among conservative Hindus.
Agricultural experts warn that the ever stronger controls on the animal trade and cow protection laws will upend the economics of India's dairy industry at a time when Indian milk demand is rising.
My feeling is that the growth in milk production will definitely decrease, because if a farmer is not being paid for the price of the milk, if he is redundant and infertile animals are not taken care of. If they are forced on him to keep them at his own cost there will be negative growth in milk production. Which would ultimately mean that the milk production will decrease, demand will increase, and prices of the milk are likely to go up.
In Madhya Pradesh, the government has provided land for gaushalas as a kind of old age home for the animals. But farmers leaving animals there must pay 500 rupees, about $8, a hefty sum which many are unwilling to fork out.
India is undergoing rapid economic changes. Demand for milk is increasing as people seek out more nutritious food, and the use of bulls in agriculture is dropping with mechanisation and the growing use of tractors. Amid these changes, India's ruling BJP believes that cattle should be allowed to live out their natural lives. The question is, just how many ageing and unproductive cattle can India support. Amy Kazmin, Financial Times, Madhya Pradesh.