One evening in July, visitors who had come to have a meal at Gujarat Bhawan in central Delhi were greeted by a genial-looking man who had just returned from a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office. “I am the chairman of the Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog,” Dr Vallabh Kathiria announced, with a wide and friendly smile, before he sat down at a table.
A surgeon and former Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Rajkot, 64-year-old Kathiria knows that few have heard about the National Cow Commission that he heads. He is determined to change that.
The commission was created by the Modi government in February, two months before the Lok Sabha elections. It even found a mention in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s election manifesto, which spoke about the need for “conservation of indigenous species of cattle”. With the BJP back in power with a resounding majority, the commission has been allotted a budget of Rs 500 crore this year.
What does the commission plan to do with the money?
In an interview to Scroll.in, Kathiria, who served as the chairman of Gujarat Gauseva Aayog from 2011 to 2017, outlined his vision for cow welfare in India through a combination of tourism, agriculture and education. From endowing “Kamdhenu chairs” in universities to creating “Kamdhenu Nagar” or cow shelters in housing societies, he spoke of wide-ranging plans to promote cows. He claimed almost every ministry is linked to cow welfare, from civil aviation to external affairs.
In the next five years, Kathiria hopes to make cattle-rearing so attractive that “people find a stray cow and keep it with themselves.”
Excerpts from the interview.
What was the thinking behind the formation of the Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog? What does it aim to achieve?
Basically our honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a big worshipper of the cow but he has also studied how one can take care of a cow by combining science and economics. This [Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog] was a part of the Bharatiya Janata Party [election] manifesto.
Along with cow protection, a cow welfare-oriented society had been part of our traditions. To bring that back to relevance in today’s time in terms of environment, health, socio-economics and agriculture, how can we use that for the social upliftment of the poor, downtrodden, doubling farmers’ income, for youth employment, women’s empowerment – this was the vision of Narendra Modi who thought that this was the right time to start work on this.
Cow protection is only possible when people understand the importance of cows. How is the cow useful to them? Just by praying to the cow and calling it mother will not help. But if the cow generates an income for them, if they get benefits from cow’s milk and spend less money on medicines, and if they use cow urine and dung for farming for organic production… We need to make people aware of these things, which is why Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog was formed.
When Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat, I was the chairman of the Gujarat Gauseva Aayog for seven years. We integrated all aspects like cow protection, cow welfare, breeding and practically implemented them in Gujarat, constructing a model for economic prosperity, self-reliance, maintenance of cow shelters and management. We want to replicate this model across India. That is why Mr Modi has made me the chairman of this initiative.
What steps has the Aayog taken in the last four months when it comes to cow protection, welfare and policy formation?
This is the first time such an authority has been formed in the country so firstly the infrastructure has to be made for our office and our staff. In parallel, we have started to think about the mandate we have been given – like meeting big scientists, researchers and saints across the country. I have been meeting all of them to take their inputs. We have also started working on policy formation on different aspects of cow welfare.
For instance, 35 to 40 ministries are linked with cow welfare. The tourism ministry, for example. You may think how but we have thought about cow tourism. Wherever there are good cow shelters in the country, whether in a temple or organisation like Sabarmati Ashram. People will see everything about Mahatma Gandhiji but no one knows of the cow shelter there.
If we put cow shelters in the tourism net, then at least people will see it and know what Gir cows are, they will see demonstrations, children will get an education, tourists will visit. We want people to know more about cows through the right scientific approach. We will make a small biogas plant there, a small bio-fertiliser plant, medicines made from cow urine and a counter that sells soap, shampoo and phenyl.
It is basically an awareness programme. People pray to cows because of the religious belief and they think that if they pray then everything will be fine but they don’t know the scientific meaning of this. We need tourist spots to make them aware of this.
In education, we will include some lessons about cows in textbooks for children in first, second and third grade. We will have a meeting with NCERT [National Council of Educational Research and Training] and we will link cows to environment in the curriculum. I have the books ready for the first standard. For instance, we can add lessons on the cow’s 108 names, what are its origins and how did it happen and make it like a story book.
Another is how can we do more research on cows. Today lots of medicines are made from cow urine. We will give grants for this.
We also want to make a Kamdhenu chair in universities or a Kamdhenu study centre. Children should feel that this is a topic worth understanding. There can also be a lecture series four to five times in a year on this topic. There is a lot that can be done. We can initially support universities for grants and to establish the chair and then they can manage on their own.
So that was education. Now you can ask me about any other ministry and I can tell how it is linked to cows.
Ministry of Civil Aviation?
We have so many airports and these airports have so much land. Right next to the [landing] strips, there is so much grass that is burnt. I am going to ask the airport to instead cut the grass and donate it to a cow shelter as part of their CSR [corporate social responsibility]. We can do this. Ask me more.
What about the Ministry of External Affairs?
These days beef gets exported but we say there is no need for exporting cow meat. The industry is just worth around Rs 8,000 crore to Rs 10,000 crore. There should not be any beef export. It is our opinion. We don’t know how much of it we can do but we will convey this to them.
We also want to reduce imports of bull semen especially of the Jersey cattle [native to the Jersey island, part of the United Kingdom]. We will involve the commerce ministry in this. We want to increase the semen production of the indigenous cows. Neither the Jersey cow nor the semen should come. It should stop.
And Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs?
I have proposed a concept of a ‘Kamdhenu Nagar’. In a [housing] society, there is a gym, a swimming pool, a common hall and a garden. Similarly, there should also be a cow shelter. They should keep around 10 to 20 cows and that society should get the milk from those cows. It will be good for health. It is scientifically proven that milk from Jersey cows causes brain haemorrhage, diabetes, hypertension, psychological problems and deafness. The indigenous cow’s milk is healthy.
A gobar gas plant can also be set up there so electricity can be generated from it. Fertiliser can be made from cow dung so the society garden can benefit from that.
Another thing we want to do in urban areas is have land reserved for cow shelters for those who want to care for cows but cannot do that at home. These can be called cow hostels.
Going back to cow tourism, you mentioned that a cow circuit across states is being prepared. In a news report, you were quoted saying that there will be 400 such cow tourism centres across states. What is the role of these centres?
Wherever there are model cow shelters, we will make an amphitheatre there to show some video clips about cows, some demonstrations and a stall selling ghee and milk. There will also be a restaurant serving organic food. We can have a marriage hall there for functions. We want to try to combine people’s lives with cows. Our purpose is to sensitise people.
If we use cow-based bio-fertiliser then the country’s chemical fertiliser imports of urea and potassium will also drop significantly.
How do you plan to encourage investment in this? What is the revenue model you have in mind?
The investment will not just be for tourism, it will be for overall cow-based industries. Today, you do not really get good cows. If you get some indigenous cows, you can sell their milk for Rs 80. You can also sell their calves for about Rs 1 lakh each. One indigenous cow has a lifespan of around 15 years. It is beneficial to invest in this. This potential has not yet been explored. We want to encourage youngsters to have startups on this. We will start schemes, tax concessions on this. It will happen slowly. It is all in the pipeline.
We also want to involve big industries in this. [Mukesh] Ambani has 300 cows in their Reliance campus in Jamnagar. They have the best Gir cows. There are big industrial campuses like this, including government PSUs, private and government schools, jails and military campuses, where I have a concept of starting cow shelters. Cows indigenous to that state will be reared in these campuses.
Who are you expecting to go on such cow circuits?
Everybody. From children to foreigners, from farmers to well-educated people, from bureaucrats to politicians. Whatever the belief is, my aim is to combine that with science, environment and economics and make sure people understand cows in the right manner.
There have been several reports across the country about vanishing native breeds of cows. The last livestock census that came out in 2012 noted that there had only been a marginal increase in indigenous milch cattle. How do you plan to promote indigenous cattle?
In India, there are around 44 native breeds that have been identified. We will concentrate on creating more awareness about them and create breeding farms in cow shelters for these native breeds. We will give more research grants to Central government, state government-run institutes, breeding farms, semen stations. This is not correct that the population of these breeds is reducing but now we want to bid goodbye to the Jersey cow and promote our native cows.
How will the Aayog help ensure that cows are still valuable to farmers after they can no longer provide milk?
Farmers can use cow dung and urine to make bio-pesticide and bio-fertiliser. And with this their costs reduce which becomes zero-budget farming for them. Overall their income will increase. We know that tractors have come but we also want to promote farming by using bulls to plough.
In cow shelters in Gujarat, a lot of cows and bulls are kept so that they do not get slaughtered. We gave around 80,000 bulls to farmers for free so the burden on the cow shelters also reduced.
In the recent months, farmers have reported several instances of stray cattle ruining their crops, especially in those states where cow slaughter is banned. How does the Aayog plan to address this?
So these stray cattle include mostly male cows. For this, we will start cow shelters in every district in every state under the collector. The collector, along with an NGO, will identify areas for this and the government will give grants for the fencing of that area. Just as there is a sanctuary for lions, there will be a sanctuary for domestic animals. And in that campus, the cow urine and dung can be used to generate income so that it becomes self-sufficient in two to three years.
A cow gives urine and dung lifelong and the value of that will be so much that no one will feel like abandoning their cattle. In these five years, it is my dream that people find a stray cow and keep it with themselves.
How will the Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog tackle the cow-related violence that has seen an upsurge in recent years?
What is happening is wrong, but these are just sporadic cases. We will give gau rakshaks training because the protection of cows is only one aspect. The other aspect is maintaining cow shelters, taking care of cows and raising awareness about this.
These are rare cases. We should create an environment where such cases do not happen.