‘Starving Bangladesh of beef’ would cost India Rs 31,000 crore

Rajnath Singh

Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday asked BSF jawans to put a stop to cattle smuggling across the India-Bangladesh border and stifle it so severely that people in Bangladesh stop eating beef. However, if BSF were to implement Singh’s instructions strictly, India would be saddled with an additional expenditure in excess of Rs 31,000 crore annually.

This would be the cost of sustaining around 1.25 crore cattle in various gaushalas (cowsheds) annually till they die naturally. The figure is four times higher than the allocation made by the government for nutrition of children under Integrated Child Development Scheme.

Every year, on an average, close to 25 lakh cattle are smuggled from India to Bangladesh illegally across the border. It is alleged that much of this happens with the connivance of those guarding the border–a charge denied by BSF. However, sources say, the sheer economics of the trade make it near impossible to stop cattle smuggling across India-Bangladesh border.

Processed cattle meat is a multi-million dollar industry in Bangladesh with India as the prime source of cattle. What, perhaps, the minister was not briefed about by his officials is that a large part of this is not eaten in Bangladesh but exported to Gulf countries. Most Bangladeshis, according to reportage in that country’s media, still can’t afford to eat beef regularly and do so only during festivities and other celebrations.

“There is economic pressure on both sides of the border. While there is massive demand in Bangladesh, there is matching supply from India as dairies and independent cattle-rearers can’t afford to feed their animals after they have gone dry. Then we have friendly relations with Bangladesh and we are not supposed to fire lethal weapons at smugglers unless attacked. In fact, our men carry non-lethal weapons on Bangladesh border. All of this facilitates the illegal trade. Unless a practical solution is found to feed these dry cows, this is unlikely to stop,” said a BSF officer.

That is where the figure of Rs 31,000 crore comes in. Life expectancy of cows in India varies between 15 and 20 years. Dairy industry sources say they generally stop producing milk about five years before their death. With 25 lakh cattle approaching borders every year, if government puts a complete stop to cattle smuggling it would be saddled with 1.25 crore dry cattle to feed annually. Given that cumulative cost (maintenance of cowshed, payment of salaries to cowherds and feed) of sustaining a dry cow for a year would translate to roughly Rs 25,000, government would have to shell out Rs 31,250 crore annually, say industry sources.

The cost of acquiring land for cowsheds and initial investment in building the infrastructure has to be additionally incurred.

Addressing BSF jawans at a border outpost in West Bengal on Wednesday, Singh (as quoted by agencies) said, “I am told prices of beef in Bangladesh have gone up by 30% recently due to heightened vigil by BSF against cattle smuggling. You further intensify your vigil so that the cattle smuggling stops completely and prices of beef in Bangladesh escalates 70%-80% more so that people of Bangladesh give up eating beef.”

Source: The Economic Times, India