While the idea of "cow tourism" may sound unbelievable to some, the concept seems to be gaining ground in Himachal Pradesh which is planning to boost tourism to its "cow sanctuaries". The BJP government is reportedly working on a proposal to link eleven upcoming cow sanctuaries to the tourism sector.
“Construction work at the cow sanctuary at Sunni in Shimla district is complete, costing Rs 2.22 core. The cow sanctuary, sixth in the series being built-up in the state, will formally be opened to the bovine community during this month,” the state's minister for agriculture and animal husbandry Virender Kanwar recently declared.
The sanctuary will provide a safe and secure haven for cows and also offer basic facilities like shelter, drinking water, dry/green fodder for their feeding and essential veterinary services including identification of animals via ear tagging. The animals will get a natural living and feeding environment within the closed sanctuary area.
"The sanctuary will gradually be developed as a tourist destination - a model of its own sort," Kanwar adds.
The sanctuary, which will primarily house stray cattle and abandoned cows, has been developed by the HP Gauseva Aayog –a statutory regulatory body set up two years back by the Jai Ram Thakur government for the protection and welfare of indigenous cows and their progeny, including bull, bullock, ox and calves. The objective is to dedicate an area entirely to cows, much on the lines of a wildlife sanctuary, which will help in the conservation of these animals.
There are around 30,000 to 32,000 stray animals on the roads in Himachal Pradesh. Since coming to power, the state government has been able to accommodate nearly 20,000 animals in different sanctuaries and gau-sadans. The Sunni cow sanctuary, located 45 km from the state capital Shimla, already has around 200 cows at present and will soon be able to accommodate 500 animals.
The sanctuary will be developed into a breeding centre for local and indigenous breeds like Pahadi (Gauri), Gir, Red Sindhi, Sahiwal and Thar Parkar to develop pedigree bulls that can service the area, Himachal's agriculture minister said.
Such cow sanctuaries and Gau Sadans are set to come up in 11 districts of Himachal Pradesh except Lahaul Spiti district.
Total five cow sheds have so far been built at a cost of Rs 1.30 crore with steel foundations and pre-painted sheet roofing, with each costing Rs 26 lakh. The department of animal husbandry is currently manning a Gausadan at Sunni in collaboration with an NGO called Hari Gausadan that houses 200 animals. Cow snatuaries currently exist in Kotla Barog (Sirmour), Thana Kalan Khas (Una), Handa Kundi (Solan), Khairi (Hamirpur ) and Luthan in Kangra .
A fodder store with a steel structure and prepainted sheet roofing has been set up with an initial cost of Rs 38.87 lakhs to provide green fodder or cow grass (regular fodder) to the animals
Animals rescued from cattle smugglers will also find a place at the sanctuary.
Other facilities in the sanctuary will include hospitals and Sewan grass as fodder for the animals. This particular type of grass is considered to be among the best quality fodder for cows.
The cow sanctuaries are further set to run entirely on green energy with a bio-gas plant to take care of its energy requirements for fuel, light and water pumping.
To augment its resources, the sanctuary plans to prepare bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides, which can be sold to local farmers at very concessional rates.
But, the opposition says the BJP is known for such gimmicks which involve public sentiments. "Hundreds of abandoned cows and stray cattle are still on the roads in urban towns and highways, many also get injured or even killed in accidents. You can spot stray cattle everywhere from Rampur to Chamba and Karsog to Rajgarh," alleges Asha Kumari, a six-time Congress MLA from Dalhousie.