New Delhi: The Union environment ministry has asked the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) to assess the cost of building new cow shelters and maintaining existing ones to house stray cattle, according to a senior environment ministry official aware of the matter.

The ministry has also asked AWBI, India’s nodal body to promote animal welfare, to assess the state of registered gaushalas (cow shelters).

“There are lakhs of stray cattle across India and they do not get proper care once they stop giving milk," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Our main aim behind such study is to ensure that in a few years from now, India doesn’t have stray cattle any more. Our plan is aimed at ensuring that even when cattle stop giving milk, there are people to take care of them," the official said, adding that AWBI has been asked to determine the financial implications of providing shelter to all stray cattle.

Cows that have stopped giving milk are routinely driven out to the streets, where they forage on garbage. There are over 5 million stray cattle in the country, according to the central government’s 2012 livestock census. However, there are only around 1,850 registered cow shelters, apart from a few hundred unregistered ones, according to AWBI.

The official cited earlier explained that the plan is to make livestock owners aware of the economic value of cattle after they stop giving milk.

“These stray cattle or unwanted cows are basically by-products of the milk industry, which washes off its hands once these animals stop giving milk. An economic value has to be put to cows even when they stop giving milk to address the problem," said N.G. Jayasimha, an AWBI member and an advocate.

“Once cattle stop giving milk, they should not be allowed to go out of villages. Instead, every village has common land and that land should be used to house the stray cattle. And later, farmers can get cow manure from such shelters. This way, their dependence on fertilizers, which results in subsidy bill of thousands of crores of rupees, will reduce. Basically, stray cattle need to be looked from an economic point of view," Jayasimha added.

Cattle, mainly cows, have been in the news since May 2014, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government came to power at the centre.

Some groups have asked the government to declare the cow as India’s national animal instead of the tiger. Later, the debate shifted to banning cow slaughter and eating beef.

However, experts have repeatedly called for action to be taken for the welfare of cattle and demanded to know what steps the government had taken. In May, the government organized a national meeting to discuss steps to promote cow welfare.

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