Two days after newspapers reported Delhi Urban Development Minister’s decision to relocate Delhi’s dairies in accordance with Delhi Master Plan, The Hindu, in a news report (with no byline, no quotes and no news) titled ‘Sheila Government bogged down by populism’ has pitched for resumption of the drive by which MCD had started shutting Delhi’s dairies and auctioning impounded buffaloes in neighbouring states in the name of court orders in an NGO PIL about stray cattle. The business of banishing buffaloes smells of monkey business and could do with some minding.

The story thus far goes as follows. In an NGO PIL about stray cattle menace, Delhi High Court set a deadline of October 2004 and, in purported compliance, on 27.05.04 Municipal Corporation of Delhi started a drive to close dairies and auction their buffaloes and donate their cows in neighbouring states. 8 dairies were shut and 52 animals impounded on 27.05.04 and 44 of these were auctioned for a total of Rs.296000 on 28.05.04. The Chief Minister was determined to support the drive and, by 28.05.04, also to shift authorized dairies out of Delhi to rid the city of stray cattle menace. Media cheered, environmentalists contributed river pollution statistic, animal and workers’ and child and food rights activists did not object. Before the next shutdown, scheduled on 31.05.04, however, the Chief Minister did a volte-face and ‘came to the rescue of dairies’. She ordered the drive stopped and announced that dairies would not be shut but properly relocated outside Delhi in the National Capital Region and that a review petition would be filed in the court to seek extension of the deadline. On 03.06.04, with the Chief Minister on a foreign trip, Delhi Urban Development Minister announced that dairies would be relocated in Delhi’s rural area according to Delhi Master Plan. On 05.06.04 The Hindu published its advocacy for banishing buffaloes, alleging that the Urban Development Minister and others had pressurized the Chief Minister to serve the interests of dairy mafia and advising government to, instead of calling meetings to discuss issues like illegal dairies, concentrate on matters like dedicated tracks for high capacity buses, etc.

Before proceeding further it would be useful, amidst the confusion over dairies and stray cattle and whatnot, to clearly state the assumptions of this piece, viz, (a) dairies are places where dairy cattle is maintained, (b) dairy cattle is not stray cattle, (c) dairy cattle can wander as if it were stray and cause identical nuisance, (d) dairies can also cause nuisance on account of effluent, (e) the nuisance can be handled without forgoing benefits, (f) benefits of dairies are milk, jobs and maintenance of urban agriculture use if needed.

According to media reports, Delhi has 7 government authorized dairies (of unspecified capacity) and the number of other dairies counted in joint survey by Delhi government and MCD in January 2002 has been variously reported by media as 2378, 2700, 2718, 2783, 2750, 2811, 3500, etc. MCD’s estimate of 35000 animals has been consistently reported, but it is not clear if this is the estimate of all stray animals or of all dairy animals or of animals in dairies that were targeted for shutdown (ie, all except authorized dairies). Apart from reference to MCD’s special arrangement with a gosadan in Mt Abu in Rajasthan for transporting 4000 cows to it, the numbers of cows and buffaloes, and corresponding MCD targets for cow-donation and buffalo-auction, are also not clear. Media has also not reported the precise extent and nature of nuisance on account of dairy cattle or, for that matter, their contribution to the supply of milk and milk products in the city, jobs, fuel and fertilizer, etc.

While media provides no clue about how the decision was taken to transfer, by special arrangement, Delhi’s white bovine assets to one Mt Abu gosadan, it does provide a rough idea of public revenue generation planned from peculiar transfer of its black bovine assets to neighbouring states. MCD had plans to shut 40 dairies per week and, if its first-day performance covered typical sized dairies and buffalo bids, it would have raised about Rs.15,00,000 from auctioning privately owned buffaloes every week for maybe more than two years. Milk substitution would, presumably, offer additional opportunities.

The Chief Minister, after she withdrew support to this initiative to ‘come to the rescue of dairies’ on 31.05.04, launched a tirade against gross underutilization of government-run cow shelters on account of misuse of space in them for commercial farming. This was misplaced not only because media reported that the 6 government-run cow shelters were short of only 100 cows out of total capacity of 8400 but also because these are, in any case, not meant for privately owned dairy cattle. After change in government at the Centre the Chief Minister was, of course, unable to launch a tirade against DDA for failing to give her land to give milk and jobs to the city. DDA was only politely told to provide land for dairies, as were Delhi Government’s Development Commissioners.

MCD Commissioner gave carefully worded explanation about why the closures and auctions were being stopped and ‘categorically clarified’ that the drive to make the Capital cattle free was still on and MCD would continue to pick up cattle from the streets. This is all that the court, which, lest it be forgotten, was hearing a matter pertaining to stray cattle menace, had previously directed MCD to do, including impound also dairy animals wandering on roads, etc, and fine their owners. For compliance MCD had purchased 12 hydraulic trucks for its 12 zones from a Ropar-based firm, etc, but its minions used the existence of these to extort to not impound rather than to impound to fine. Rather than deal with that, after receiving a dressing down in Court in mid-may, MCD decided to go ahead with shutting dairies and set up three pounds and advertised in neighbouring states imminent start of twice-weekly buffalo auctions.

The stray cattle menace matter in court had drifted from stray cattle to dairy cattle on the tenuous grounds that all owners of all dairies all over Delhi do not have either resources to maintain their cattle or access to places where their animals might graze without causing nuisance and all of Delhi’s dairy animals wander on its roads to nearly wholly make up the stray cattle menace. This, of course, is ludicrous. A moment’s reflection would recall that bovines lazing on Delhi roads are stray cows. Getting rid of dairy cattle that crosses roads, usually in attended herds, will rid the city not of its stray cattle menace but of probably sizeable amount of its milk production capacity.

To its ludicrous case against dairies as main cause of stray cattle menace, MCD now added the mother-of-all justifications – 700 tonnes of dung flows into Yamuna. If this estimate is based on some data collection effort, then the same should provide figures of milk production, etc, that need also to feature in the dairy debate. The dung data, in any case, is irrelevant to the river pollution debate. Buffaloes certainly do not wander all the way to the Yamuna to drop dung into it and the dung that does find its way there is only tiny trickle in torrent of untreated sewage flowing into it. The miniscule river cleansing benefit of eliminating dung disposal into it could easily be achieved with deploying dung for other uses and does not need to be at the cost of the city’s milk producing capability.

Nevertheless, the MCD, or at least its Commissioner, made right earnest dung and stray remarks and media lamented the big question mark put by the Chief Minister’s volte-face on the city's court-assisted fight against pollution and stray cattle menace. The tendency of MCD to call citizens, city enterprises, and now city milk-providers, Yamuna-polluter is especially irritating, considering that 80% of Yamuna pollution is sewage and ‘the construction, maintenance and cleansing of drains and drainage works’ is MCD’s first obligatory function, to which it seems least inclined to attend. Also, construction and maintenance of cattle biers and organization and maintenance of farms and dairies for supply, distribution and processing of milk products for benefit of residents of Delhi are its discretionary functions, to which it has not attended, even as it has lately exercised discretion way beyond jurisdiction to make policy to make money from permitting illegal commercial use of farms for benefit of residents in dire need to party.

Now, what MCD should be doing, instead of shutting dairies and donating and auctioning dairy cattle is shutting party-shops on farms and making their owners accommodate dairies. This would take care of the nuisance caused by both and is any way an imperative of Delhi Master Plan provisions for urban agriculture and environment protection, UPA government’s National Common Minimum Programme commitments in respect of employment, food security, agriculture, water resources, environment, etc, and the 74th Constitutional Amendment by which responsibility of preparing plans for economic development and social justice has been made obligatory function of MCD.

And what Delhi Government, no more out of control since all tiers of government in Delhi are currently in control of the Congress, should be doing is making sure that solutions to city problems are implemented in accordance with law and, especially since it has long waited amicable relations with the centre, also with the central government’s NCMP. As such, it is heartening to note that the Chief Minister’s unconsidered stand on dairies has been substituted with the more considered position of Delhi Urban Development Minister who has announced that dairies will be relocated in dairy colonies in Delhi’s rural area in accordance with Delhi Master Plan and the Delhi government is going to approach the High Court with a review petition to seek an extension of the October 2004 deadline.

There is a small flaw in the interpretation of the Plan inasmuch as the Minister has said that dairy colonies will be developed in rural growth centres, which are villages identified as being ideal for developing facilities and rural industries to optimally service groups of villages and may not be suitable for shifting uses unwanted in Delhi. Dairy colonies, like farmhouses, are envisaged in rural area closer to Delhi. Also the Plan allows dairies to be accommodated in, say, urban villages through urban renewal and mixed landuse schemes and these provisions can easily be converged with Delhi government’s plans to develop 29 model villages and to protect water bodies and their catchments. I am writing to the Minister to make these small plannerly clarifications and to suggest that the government’s review petition, instead of seeking an extension of deadline for dealing with the stray cattle menace, should insist on an earlier deadline for MCD to solve the problem of non-dairy stray cattle now that the dairy cattle problem has been taken off its hands.

The Hindu advocacy for banishing buffaloes is something to ponder since, come to think of it, similar fine-timed media advocacy has been rather central to all other banishing programs as well.