A group of around 50 men suspected to be cow vigilantes attacked and reportedly tried to set ablaze trucks transporting cattle from Rajasthan to Tamil Nadu, police said on Monday. The cattle were purchased by Tamil Nadu’s Animal Husbandry Department. The accused also blocked National Highway 15, where the incident took place, following rumours of cattle smuggling in Barmer district, reported PTI.

The cows were being transported as part of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government’s cattle breeding programme, Rajasthan police told NDTV. The Union Ministry of Agriculture’s Rashtriya Gokul Mission aims to preseve indigenous cattle breeds. The accused would have hampered the breeding mission if they succeeded in burning the cattle-laden vehicles.

A senior police official said four persons have been arrested and action was taken against seven policemen, including an inspector, for reaching the spot late and allegedly not taking the matter seriously.

Tamil Nadu government officials had bought 50 calves and cows from Jaisalmer and were transporting them in five trucks, when the vehicles were attacked. The officials were reported to have a no-objection certificate and all the required papers and permission from the authorities and police.

One of the truck drivers said they tried to reason with the attackers and offered them evidence. “But they refused,” said Ghewar Ram, one of the truck’s drivers. “They started pushing us around and beat us,” NDTV quoted Ram as saying.

“The accused tried to attack the officials. They also tried to set a truck on fire but police reached the spot and prevented them,” Superintendent of Barmer police Gagandeep Singla said.

Police registered a case against 50 persons for voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servants from duty, for assault, and also under the National Highway Act.

Singla said the officials, drivers and the cleaners had been rescued and taken to the local police station. “In the meantime, several people gathered there and blocked National Highway 15. The accused pelted stones at the trucks and damaged one truck. The cows were rescued and taken to a local cow shelter for the time being,” he added.

“The officials informed the police station immediately and sought help but policemen reached the spot late. On this dereliction, the station house officer of the Sadar Police Station and six other policemen were shunted to police lines today,” he said.