New Delhi: The Union environment ministry is holding a day-long programme on the welfare of cows on Monday, the second anniversary of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) victory in the Lok Sabha elections.

A senior environment ministry official, who did not want to be identified, said the move comes after environment minister Prakash Javadekar received a number of representations from non-governmental organizations and religious leaders demanding steps for cow welfare.

Senior members of the government including home minister Rajnath Singh, agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh and Javadekar are expected to attend the event.

Since May 2014, when the NDA came to power, the environment ministry has received over 100,000 representations asking it to declare the cow as India’s national animal instead of the tiger.

“At the seminar, three main subjects will be discussed—how to increase the milk production of Indian-bred cows in comparison to the cows of other nations, how to provide nutritious feed and fodder to cows to obtain optimum milk production and how to make non-productive cows financially sustainable," the official said.

“We need to discuss the steps for the protection and welfare of cows, especially when they become non-productive," he further said.

N.G. Jayasimha, member of the Animal Welfare Board of India, criticized the timing of the event.

“There is nothing wrong in organizing a seminar on cow welfare. But the timing is not right. The country is reeling under a severe drought, with cattle facing shortage of water and fodder. At such a time, the ministry is organizing a programme inviting gaushalas (cow shelters) from across the nation, spending around 20 lakh to just talk on the issue. This is ill-conceived to say the least," he said.

There are around 1,830 registered gaushalas in India.

“If the ministry wants to hold this workshop, they could hold it as an e-conference at minimal cost, and that would also be in sync with the honourable prime minister’s Digital India programme. The environment ministry should emulate the golden path set by the prime minister of digitally reaching out to constituents," added Jayasimha.

Ever since the NDA government came to power in May 2014, the debate over beef—eating or exporting—has often turned controversial.

In March 2015, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Maharashtra government passed the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, 1995, under which anyone found with beef or selling it could be jailed for five years and fined up to 10,000.

However, last week, the Bombay high court allowed the possession and consumption of beef brought from outside the state.

In October 2015, in Samajwadi Party-ruled Uttar Pradesh, a man was lynched by a mob after rumours that he had stocked beef at his home.

In August 2015, a seminar on cow welfare was organized by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), which was attended by experts from across the country.

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