Saturday, 6 May 2017

Aadhaar cards for cows to cost govt Rs 148 crore

Make no mistake. The cow-love we see today isn’t a new phenomena. Cows in India have always enjoyed a special status, and not just because they represent the majority religious population of the country. In fact, Article 48 of the Indian Constitution mandates the state to prohibit the slaughter of cows and calves. So, it is not just its religious significance, but a strong constitutional backing too that offers cow, the coveted more than equal status among animals. But, with the Narendra Modi government's decision to issue an Aadhaar-like Unique identification number to cows and calves, this saga is entering a whole new level.

We are probably becoming the only country on earth where an animal, which isn’t facing the danger of extinction, is given government sponsored Aadhaar-like unique identification numbers. As per the idea, every single cow and buffalo in the country and their family members will get a tag containing a 12-digit unique identification number inside the ear — all 88 million of them. "The unique ID will contain details of the cattle’s age, breed, sex, height, body colour, horn type, tail switch and special marks, according to the panel set up by the home ministry. In the case of milch cattle, it will also have the lactation profile. This ID will take the form of a polyurethane tag."

The ambitious project will be concluded by the end of this year and will cost Rs 148 crore to the exchequer. These "animal Aadhaar cards" will contain the breed and age of the cattle, as well as information about the owner, location and also details about its vaccination.

Representational image. Reuters

Cows have always been considered akin to Gods in India, and Hindus consider them 'mata' but this new UID project, along with other developments, such as life-term imprisonment for cow slaughter imposed in certain states like Gujarat, makes one believe that cow protection is now officially one of the major agendas for the Narendra Modi-led BJP government in a country which is home to 1.25 crore Indians across all religions. Out of those 1.25 crore people, there are also those for whom the cow is only a domesticated animal useful for milk and meat, and nothing more than that. Somehow, other animals from the kingdom aren't as important as the cow in India — they are too inferior to get a UID.

Questions are bound to come up. Are we focussing too much on cows in a country where one third of the population is still below the poverty line, and where even many citizens are yet to get their Aadhar cards? More importantly, what is the message we want to convey to the rest of the world — a nation that has officially acknowledged cows are like humans (at least in certain aspects)? Remember, this is a time when the applicability of Aadhaar for different purposes is being disputed in the Supreme Court.

Won’t the state's obsession with cows further embolden the vigilante groups or the gau rakshaks? Haven’t we seen enough deaths in the name of cows? Since the Modi government came to power in 2014, as this Firstpost article notes, protection of cow and its meat have been much debated topics in the country. Cow vigilantism or gau raksha gained widespread media spotlight in September 2015 after 60-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in Uttar Pradesh's Dadri for allegedly possessing beef. Forensic reports later revealed the meat was, in fact, mutton and not beef.

While the subject simmered, BJP's Yogi Adityanath took over as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and announced a ban on all "illegal" slaughter houses in the state that, in fact, impacted even the operations of legal slaughter houses. Across the country, there have been countless attacks on people by self-proclaimed gau rakshaks. Can we, at least now, shift our focus our attention to something more important than cow protection?

Even after 70 years of Independence, India has not managed to shed the ill of poverty from its soil. According to aWorld Bank report in October, 2016, India accounted for the largest number of people living below international poverty line in 2013, with 30 percent of its population under the $1.90-a- day poverty measure. One third of Indians are below poverty line.


"India is by far the country with the largest number of people living under the international $1.90-a-day poverty line, more than 2.5 times as many as the 86 million in Nigeria, which has the second-largest population of the poor worldwide," the report said.

Our immediate challenges are not just economical. The Modi-government have several things on its plate. There is a serious law and order situation in the country; there is need to urgently ramp up our defence mechanism against both domestic and foreign threats. In fact, the latest news on 25 CRPF jawans masscared in a Naxal ambush in Chattisgarh, is an example of the other really crucial things this government needs to focus on. There is unrest in Kashmir and drought-related crisis across agrarian states.

At a time when a country like ours, an aspiring economy, should devote its time on crucial issues like poverty eradication, employment generation and social/economic reforms and internal security, it is quite silly to see that we are paying all this attention to issues like cow protection and Aadhaar cards for cows. The government will have to spend around Rs 148 crore to issue these Aadhar cards for cows.

Clearly, this money can be spent somewhere else where it benefits humans in need. The Modi-government needs to get its priorities right.

By First Post