New Delhi: The sacred cow in India can probably heave a sigh of relief—the government has decided to go all-out to check cattle smuggling, especially thousands of cows, to Bangladesh.

The effort, which is led by Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, is being supported by state governments. The Union home ministry has already zeroed in on a slew of measures that the central and state governments need to take to tackle the informal trade.

India shares a 4,096.7-km border with Bangladesh, which is the longest land border in India; every year thousands of cattle are smuggled to Bangladesh.

To ensure that the problem is addressed at the root and long-term solutions are found, a meeting was conducted at the Union home ministry on 19 August with stakeholders including animal rights activist, officials from Border Security Force (BSF), which secures the India-Bangladesh border, official from animal and husbandry departments, Union environment ministry, and representative from many state governments.

The ministry has already sent the minutes of the meeting to the chief secretaries of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Assam, Odisha, Tripura, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal to take “necessary action" to stop the smuggling of cattle.

The action came after a nudge from the Supreme Court of India, which is hearing a writ petition regarding cattle smuggling filed by the Akhil Bharat Krishi Gosewa Sangh.

According to the minutes of the 19 August meeting, reviewed by Mint, animal rights activists informed the home ministry that the “unregulated interstate transportation of cattle" is resulting in a large number of cattle reaching the India-Bangladesh border.

The activists highlighted that regulation of transportation of cattle needs to be strictly enforced and that both central and state authorities need to work together.

In the meeting, the Andhra Pradesh government representative said “distress sale of unproductive cattle" is the root cause of the problem and needs to be looked into. Andhra Pradesh also argued for tagging animals to trace their transportation.

The central department of animal husbandry and dairying said at present tagging is done only for milching cattle but its “extension could be examined".

The BSF representative, however, said a task force at the state level would be useful to look into the welfare of unproductive cattle and added that seized cattle should be auctioned away from border areas.

The customs department told the meeting that they don’t have much of a presence in the border areas which means they are unable to keep the seized cattle with them, necessitating auctions in the border areas.

The customs department requested the states to provide the necessary cattle sheds.

The environment ministry’s joint secretary Anil Sant told the meeting that rules for the transportation of cattle are already in the public domain. He said transportation of cattle cannot be banned as they are required for agriculture and dairying. Sant also said that states have to take their share of responsibility on the issue and stressed that cattle are also dying in Gaushalas.

The environment ministry is already studying the financial implications of providing shelters to all stray cattle in India.

But activists are not happy.

“While the ministry of home affairs is taking steps, BSF and Sashastra Seema Bal are doing their bit, the locus of legislative reform is the environment ministry. The environment ministry needs to notify cattle market rules and case property animal rules as directed by the Supreme Court. It feels as if animals are orphaned by the indifference of the environment ministry officials," said N.G. Jayasimha, a member of the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI); he had attended the 19 August meeting.

Cattle market rules pertain to regulation of cattle markets. Case property animal rules are related to handling of animals that are seized by customs department at borders.

Following the meeting, a committee headed by home ministry’s joint secretary Ramesh Sule was formed on 2 September. It has been tasked to, “evolve a comprehensive future plan to effectively deal with the issue of smuggling of cattle/transportation of animals to Bangladesh after an analysis of the views put forward by the members of the committee" and submit a report within four weeks.

Representatives of the departments of home in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Assam, Tripura, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Haryana, representative from customs department, environment ministry, department of animal husbandry, dairying and fisheries, from AWBI and Akhil Bharat Krishi Goseva Sangh are also part of the committee.

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