By Prem J Das:
It wasn’t very long ago that Mr. Arvind Subramanian, the Chief Economic Adviser while interacting with students of Economics at the Mumbai University, declined to answer the question when asked if the beef ban would have an adverse impact on farmers’ income or on the rural economy. He declined to answer the question citing his fear of losing his job but expressed thanks for the question. But in the question raised lies hidden an alternative means for achieving the objective of the cow protection brigades.
A reverse approach, namely to address the impact on the farmer’s income in a positive manner would help achieve the protection of cows without the associated violence of the current approach. Making use of incentives, taking a cue from the populist programs of the earlier government would turn out to be the best means to protect the cow. Incentivising the farmer to hold on to bovines that are not productive would serve to protect the interest of both the farmers and the bovines.
An incentive for the farmer that provides for an additional source of income besides helping him to look after the cattle would make him look at cattle as an asset, rather than as a liability. The money that the farmer would be able to pocket after the upkeep of the cattle could act as a deterrent. The state only needs to ensure that for a fixed period of a set of months, the cumulative sum of money he makes by holding on to each bovine, would be more than what the farmer stands to make if he sells it to be slaughtered. This would make it profitable for the farmer to hold onto both the bulls and the cows that have stopped producing milk.
As a result of the farmers holding on to the cattle, the market price for cattle would increase. The butcher would end up having to pay a higher price for the cattle which would, in turn, make the price of beef exorbitantly high in the market. A very high price would turn off many people from beef. This would ensure that cows would be protected across the country. This would also include states that do not have a law in place banning beef. In case of tourists and dignitaries visiting the country to attend investor meets or other events, they could still consume beef, by paying the very high price dictated by the markets. This would save the need for providing special permits for visitors in states like the one recently contemplated for an investor meet to be held in the state of Haryana where beef is banned.
The law for implementing the scheme could be expanded by accommodating funds for the construction of biogas plants in local households to ensure that the energy needs of the rural sector are met partially. Utilising the resources of MNREGA to this effect along with the scheme would ensure that the bovines which would have otherwise been a liability turn into an asset not just to the farmer but to the entire community. Training the farmers to make use of agrarian and other organic wastes to produce biogas would contribute to the efforts towards cleanliness. The byproduct of fertilisers from the biogas plants would also help the farmers. Overall, this would end up being an initiative that helps not just the farmer, but the community and the nation.
The fallout of the current approach of banning beef consumption would be the best advocate for the alternative approach. The ban on beef has led to violence and even the death of many people. The emergence of vigilante groups that violate the privacy of many citizens across the country under the guise of implementing the ban is another reason. The climate of fear that is being created could eventually lead to something even more sinister. In addition, the videos attributed to these organisations circulating on social media do not confirm to the standards that we ought to set for the modern nation that we aspire to build.
In contrast to the beef ban, the approach for incentivising farmers would be a modern approach that addresses not only the religious sentiments of a significant section of the population but also helps the farmers suffering from adverse climate change. This approach could also find support to be made into a law cutting across party lines in a Parliament that is quite often divided. This would satisfy the stated objectives of most political parties, be it farmer protection or cow protection. It would also ensure the objective of protecting the bovines, without the state dictating as to what the citizens could or couldn’t eat.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the approach would be the government. This would help stop many of the headlines that have been causing it a headache recently. It would help the government to move on from this issue by turning this into an opportunity for rural empowerment. It could finally move on to addressing other issues that need its attention. This would enable many of our youth to be relieved of their activities related to vigilante groups and move to more constructive ones. It would help many citizens live free from the climate of fear and the possibility of being killed in the name of the cow.