Mon, May 02, 2005 - Page 5 News List

New Delhi given a week to `eradicate' sacred cows

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

Armed with stun guns and large nets, officials will be out on the streets of the Indian capital in their hundreds this week as the capital gets tough in its mission to eradicate stray cattle.

The problem has become so severe that the High Court has issued city authorities with a one-week ultimatum to clear the streets of illegally roaming animals. However, the owners of the city's 3,500 illegal street dairies fiercely are resisting all attempts to round up the beasts. Delhi's residents are increasingly disgusted by the disruption and danger that cattle pose. Almost every week new stories of their savagery hit the front pages.

In February, a retired railway official and a maid were gored to death by a wild bull, and last month a Hindu priest was attacked and killed by a cow. Despite a two-year clean-up campaign, officials estimate 32,000 cows remain. Failure to solve the problem led to this week's court ultimatum. Last week, Chief Justice BC Patel ordered the head of the New Delhi municipal council and other officials to appear in court "if the problem of stray cattle is not solved within a week." Reluctance stems not from respect for the cow as a holy Hindu animal, but from fear of reprisals.

At the heart of the problem are the city's illegal dairies whose owners allow the cattle to graze untended during the day before rounding them up for milking in the evenings. These small businesses are often protected by powerful local interests, and have responded with gang violence to attempts to confiscate their animals.

"Our officials are beaten up whenever they go to catch stray cattle," a lawyer for the municipal council told the court.

Officials have been attacked by mobs and their vehicles vandalized. The council asked the court for better police protection but its request was not granted.

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