Gujarat Assembly Passed The Gujarat Cattle Control BILL 2022
In a bid to check the menace of stray cattle in urban areas, the Gujarat Assembly recently passed the Gujarat Cattle Control (Keeping and Movement) in Urban Areas Bill 2022, that gives the state government and local bodies the power to declare parts of an urban area or an entire urban area as ‘prohibited zones’ for cattle rearing and movement. As part of the new law, which has been opposed by the maldhari community of cattle-rearers, violations will now be a cognisable offence.
The new law will be applicable in Gujarat’s eight major cities – Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Rajkot, Gandhinagar, Jamnagar, Bhavnagar and Junagadh – which have municipal corporations and 162 towns which have municipalities and are notified as urban areas. Accor*ding to the new law, the registration and tagging of animals will be made mandatory in municipal areas. The cattle breeders will have to secure a license to keep cattle in urban areas. Pastoralists will be liable to obtain a license within 90 days of the new law coming into force. All livestock kept by breeders will have to be tagged within 15 days of receiving their licenses. If any ‘tagged’ animal is caught wandering around, its owner will be charged with a criminal offense. To investigate the case, the local authorities will appoint a licensed inspector.
The Gujarat Provincial Municipal Corporation Act 1948 and The Gujarat Municipalities Act, 1963 provide for control of animal nuisance in urban areas. Animal nuisance control is treated as a civic service under this act. With more resources at their disposal, the municipal corporations have animal nuisance control departments (ANCDs) which impound stray cattle, keep them in cattle pounds and if not claimed by owners within a week, seize them and send them to panjarapoles (charitable organisations working for animal welfare). However, most municipalities lack resources and facilities for carrying out such operations. Some time ago, Gandhidham municipality in Kutch had impounded 600 bulls and male calves after complaints from residents. But eventually, the civic body was forced to let them loose in a gradual manner as it ran out of resources to maintain them. ANCDs initiate criminal action under Section 91 of Gujarat Police Act, 1951. But courts allow release of cattle on payment of Rs 200 fine. Presently, municipal corporations charge Rs 1,000 fine and up to Rs 700 maintenance cost per cattle head per day from owners who come to claim their cattle after being impounded by civic bodies. The new law will replace the Gujarat Essential Commodities and Cattle (Control) Act, 2005.
Almost all major cities and towns have been grappling with the stray cattle menace. Over the past eight years, Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) has impounded 72,000 cattle heads straying on city roads. Besides the loss of human lives and injuries in accidents involving cattle on city roads, the problem is exacting a heavy financial cost also. RMC spends lakhs on maintaining the impounded and unclaimed cattle-heads and transporting them to panjrapoles as far away as Surat in south Gujarat and Palanpur in north Gujarat. Civic officers say the problem has been exacerbated by bullocks losing their relevance due to advent of mechanisation in agricultural operations and prohibition on their slaughter as well as threats of cow vigilante groups. In rural areas, feral cattle, including bulls and unproductive cows destroy standing crops, farmers are herding such feral cattle together and releasing them in urban areas.
The maldharis or herdsmen, who have protested against the proposed law, are found residing in pockets of all cities and towns in Gujarat. The cattle rearing community, which forms part of the Other Backward Classes (OBC), residing in urban areas are usually members of Rabari, Bharvad, Gadhvi, Ahir and Jat Muslim communities. They believe their occupation of rearing cows amounts to service to gaumata (the cow mother). Maldharis roughly form 10 per cent of Gujarat’s population, their concentration being higher in Saurashtra, Kutch and North Gujarat.
It is agreed cattle should not be let loose on city roads. But the problem really is of bulls and male calves that are of no use these days. Maldharis are not against the law but the government should think about their means of livelihood too. Even if they move out of the city limits, once the city grows, they will again be thrown out. But if the government allots them land— even if on the outskirts but with long term guarantees — they can consider moving out. If the government can allot land to an Amul dairy, it can certainly allot some land to Maldharis, who supply milk to everyone, including Amul.