Discover more from The UnEarth Bulletin
Banning Cow Slaughter
My Question this Week
A debate has unfortunately started on Verghese Kurien and his religious beliefs on the question of killing cows. Kurien, reportedly an avowed atheist, was most responsible for the large rise in India’s cow population. He helped created a new profitable value chain for cattle owners and thankfully was supported by India’s political and social leadership. So how did he address the non-productive cattle problem? His solution probably allowed the killing of cows for economic reasons.
There is no doubt, that for a substantial proportion of Indians “gau mata” is not just another animal, but is more a boon from god that sustains us with nourishment and livelihoods. This holy status was reflected by many past efforts by Gandhians and also Socialists, many of whom were Congress leaders, to ban gau vadh (cow slaughter). This is currently being pushed forcefully by what is conventionally termed Hindutva organizations.
In my view, the killing of cows has not been banned yet because of the livelihood issue. While cows and bulls provide nutrition and/or livelihoods to hundreds of millions of Indians, that is only during their productive years. Beyond that, they need to be fed and cared for and have little economic value. And of course, there is a significant negative environmental impact as well due to methane emissions as well as the consumption of flora in green public spaces and forests.
But the key question is, what takes precedence - economic and now environmental rationality, or beliefs? And on that as well India’s governance framework is quite clear, it is for the political process to decide. If India’s politics decides that ‘gau mata’ cannot be killed, then the next question is how would we minimize the economic loss emanating from retired cattle? And this is also not just an economic issue, it also has deep moral and ethical dilemmas. If the state uses force to prevent the killing of cows, then should not the state also take responsibility for ensuring that poor farmers or unprotected forests and green spaces don’t suffer?
There are only two options before us if gau-vadh is to be banned. First, we can categorize only Indian desi cows as gau which are to be protected, but not the international or alien breeds and hybrids. Holstein and Jersey cows for instance have different physical and behavioral characteristics than Indian cows. Their milk characteristics are also different. Though difficult to monitor, this can simultaneously protect the gau and Mother Earth, and also reduce the burden on cattle owners. Second, in this alternative path, the government would purchase all retired cattle to be maintained in government-funded gau-shalas. The latter will require significant expenditure which eventually will need to be paid for by the Indian public. Which one do you prefer?
My Views this Week
Millets are high in micronutrients, need relatively lesser water, and tend to be sturdier than conventional varieties of rice, wheat, and corn. They will, therefore, be more resilient to climate change and can also help in the battle against undernutrition. And so the government is not entirely incorrect when it calls for a rise in their production. The problem is their productivity levels are quite low and provide much lower output per acre than the main cereals. The key issue that needs to be addressed therefore is - can we develop varieties of millets whose output is comparable to that of HYV wheat and rice.
The question is not the right one but I will answer it anyway. Humans need not be bad for the environment, but currently are, and will remain so in the near future. But the key question we need to ask has to be human-centric – what kind of environment is best for humans? And the answer to that, in my view, is also quite clear – the environment in which we have evolved and prospered is best for us, and the more we can manage that the better off would we be.
The Centre for Science and Environment has come out with a study on plastics and makes an unarguable point. ‘The production of such a high percentage of non-recyclable plastics means they will continue to pose immeasurable challenges …’ In other words, we are programming ecological destruction within the DNA of future India. If we can’t even recycle the plastics we are creating a mess that future generations would not be able to correct even if they had the funds for it.
You may think this is obvious, for anyone who has read even the most basic document on how to do a plantation. But apparently many do-gooders have not. Millions of trees are being planted across India (and globally) where the trees are not native to the location they are being planted in. Such alien species naturally support other non-native lifeforms, and as a consequence, they can easily alter the delicate ecological balance in any location.
Click on this LINK and see an amazing dynamic map that shows major points of emissions globally, including in India. Expand it and see how refineries, massive coal power plants, and large industries compete with cities in emitting greenhouse gases.