POST TIME: 6 January, 2019 10:37:31 AM
In the name of a cow
While there are no estimates on how much money the cess will generate, the government does expect to tackle the problem of stray cattle across villages in UP
Kumkum Chadha

In the name of a cow

So how did Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath usher in the New Year? Did he stick to his favourite game of changing names of almost every  city and street in his home state of Uttar Pradesh? Did he colour the buildings saffron? Or did he shout from rooftops and reiterated that Hindu God Hanuman belongs to the deprived segment and is a Dalit thus giving him a caste? Or did he flag Hindutva and slammed all those who did not? Or did he make it known yet again that he neither celebrates Eid or will host the customary Roza Iftar? Or provoke the Muslims by saying: “Aapko AliMubarak, hamare liye Bajrangbali hi kaafi hai”(You embrace Ali, for us Bajrangbali is enough)?
No he did none of this. Instead he took a leaf out of BJP MP Subramanian Swamy’s book and levied a cow cess in the state. Last year Swamy, a Rajya Sabha MP, called for a cow cess of one rupee on petrol to fund cow shelters across the country. Swamy’s cow cess call came during a speech on the Indian cow and its welfare. According to estimates a cess of Re one per litre on petrol would generate an annual revenue of Rupees 3000 crores: a sum larger than budgets of several ministries.

Figures apart, the idea is indeed controversial and even as the UP Chief Minister embarked on it, he was on the receiving end by the Opposition parties that debunked it on grounds that it would burden the common man.

 The cow cess is the latest among the controversial decisions taken by Yogi Adityanath. It may be recalled that within a month of his taking over as Chief Minister, he had set up anti Romeo squads in the state to stop eve teasing and harassment of girls. Later he had debunked triple talaq and compared it to disrobing of Draupadi in the Hindu epic Mahabharata.

Days after taking over, Yogi Adityanath had directed police officials to prepare an action plan for closure of slaughter houses in the state. He also ordered a blanket ban on smuggling of cows. He had also banned sale and consumption of  gutka and pan masala in all government offices in the state.

Therefore, the cow cess must be seen as yet another measure in the series of Yogi Adityanath’s ‘new UP’ drive.

As the New Year set in, the Uttar Pradesh  approved a plan to set up and run temporary 'gauvansh ashray asthals' under the urban and rural civic bodies in order to take proper care of stray cattle.

Giving a go-ahead to the plan,  Yogi Adityanath, said a "cow welfare cess" will be imposed for this.

As per the proposed plan, temporary cow sheds (gaushalas) will be opened in all villages, panchayats, municipalities, nagar panchayats and municipal corporations.

In every district, both urban and rural areas, a cowshed with capacity of minimum 1,000 animals will be built and for this a total of 2 per cent "cow welfare cess" will be imposed on excise, mandi parishad, profitable corporations and others.

In every district, a cowshed, which can house a minimum of 1,000 stray animals will be built, for which the excise department will levy a cess of 2%. This will be called 'cow welfare cess'.

 Given that more and more farmers are taking the mechanised route, government sources said  cattle owners are deserting their animals. According to the government, the new policy will ensure these stray animals are taken care of.

Earlier the chief minister had directed the officials to make immediate arrangements for proper  care of stray cows. He had also ordered removal of illegal encroachments to pave the way for fresh grazing grounds in different parts of the state.

It is true that the state government has been under  pressure from farmers protesting over stray cattle destroying their crops. There have been instances of villagers  rounding up stray cattle and locking them up in government schools and refusing to let classes run until the administration did something about the animals. Schools in Aligarh had to be closed as farmers had turned the compounds into temporary cow shelters. In a bizarre move in Aligarh, police stations also started sheltering stray cows after a directive from the district police chief.

The opposition parties in Uttar Pradesh slammed the Yogi Adityanath government’s decision to levy the cow welfare cess to fund temporary shelters for cattle. The Bharatiya Janata Party government, they alleged were indulging in “extortion” and imposing additional burden on the common man. The Samajwadi Party went as far as saying that the BJP government had imposed the tax  for serving its political agenda and doubted whether the funds collected will be used for cow welfare. There is ofcourse a parallel to this because funds allocated for cleaning the river Ganga were not used for the purpose.

While there are no estimates on how much money the cess will generate, the government does expect to tackle the problem of stray cattle across villages in UP.

UP is, however,  the first in its cow overdrive. Under the BJP, the state of Rajasthan had levied a 10% surcharge on stamp duty to raise money for cow protection. The state government has said that it needs anything between Rs200 crore and Rs500 crore to take care of its cattle population. Punjab too had done so earlier with the  Punjab State Power Corporation adding  a cow cess to its power bills.

During  Shiromani Akali Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party alliance in Punjab the state government had also levied a cess on Indian made foreign  liquor and beer and country liquor for the cow. That the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) said that the excise officials of Punjab failed to collect cow cess on liquor sales for welfare of the animal in the two financial years between 2015 and 2017 is another matter.

 While the stray cow menace is real in many states including Yogi’s Uttar Pradesh, the Hindutva agenda and BJP’s over drive on its save the cow mission with its religious connotations makes this cess a subject of ridicule. But Yogi can breathe easy because he is not the only one in the gallery of the ridiculous. In fact, he has examples from the world to substantiate that many governments have imposed several absurd taxes  including the state of Missouri in the US levying a Bachelor tax to tax unmarried men and encouraging them to marry; or Sweden which imposes a tax on strange baby names among others.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of  The Independent. She can be reached at: kumkum91@gmail.com