Chauhan plans to set up a Rs.500-crore mega cow pen

For weeks now, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has been at the helm of several events to save cows, apparently triggered by the presidential nod for the revised Madhya Pradesh anti-cow slaughter legislation. His energetic focus on the issue has caused not a little rumination in Madhya Pradesh — particularly since the well-being of the State's human progeny is increasingly dismal.

Earlier this week, Mr. Chauhan presided over a workshop where he announced a bachhda bachao abhiyaan or save the calf campaign, saying “95% of them just die due to lack of care.” The government has reportedly set in motion plans to set up a Rs.500-crore mega cow pen, a model for cow conservation for the entire country.

Mr. Chauhan is also enthusiastic over his pet anti-cow slaughter Bill receiving presidential assent recently. When the amended Act comes into force, the onus of proving innocence will be on the person accused of cow slaughter, who would be facing 7 years in jail, instead of the present 3 years, besides a minimum fine of Rs. 5,000.

“The religious feelings of people need to be respected and therefore saving the cow is one of the top priorities of the government. And let there be no doubt that cow slaughter needs to be stopped, not only in Madhya Pradesh but throughout the country,” says State PWD Minister Nagendra Singh.

And so the mood, to save cows, is set in Madhya Pradesh. Last week, Bajarang Dal activists punished Anish Qureshi, a Muslim cattle trader, for allegedly ferrying cows for slaughter by shaving off his head, an eyebrow and half his moustache.

For all the frenzied concern for bovine offspring, official figures show the government has been less than moved by the fate of human offspring, who now have some of the worst life-prospects for children anywhere in India. The State has the dubious distinction for the highest Infant Mortality Rate (IMR: 62) and the lowest literacy rates (Alirajpur: 37.22%) in the country

While the IMR in the State has declined to 62 from 67, according to the Sample Registration Survey-2011, Madhya Pradesh still has the highest IMR in the country. In fact, 30 of the 100 districts in the country with the highest IMR are in Madhya Pradesh.

But that's understandable if one were to take stock of the health situation in the State. According to a recent analysis of official health data, 53.6% of the total sanctioned posts of gynaecologists, 43.7% of paediatricians and 48% of the total sanctioned posts of anaesthetists remain vacant.

The misfortune of the State's human progeny can also be gauged from the fact that out of 572 sanctioned posts for child health specialists, 250 (43.7%) lie vacant. This means only one child health specialist is available, on average, for every 32,609 children under six years of age. If children aged up to 12 are included, the State has one paediatrician for every 66,000 children.

The prospects of Madhya Pradesh's progeny don't get better when they get older. The average per capita income of a Madhya Pradesh resident in 2011 was Rs. 27,250, placing it above only Bihar's Rs. 20,069 and Nagaland's Rs. 21,434. The State's economy grew by 11.07%, in contrast to several other poor States where the governments have been focussed more on development than cow protection, among them, Bihar, which grew at 31.26%, Chhattisgarh, which grew at 34.66%. Even States like Nagaland, Sikkim and Manipur, without Madhya Pradesh's substantial natural resources, registered substantially higher growth rates.

Mr. Singh, though, disagrees that his government cares only for calves. “Look nobody is disputing the need to address other issues and that is being done too, but there are some things that need the government's attention on priority.”

Not surprisingly, Opposition leaders disagree. “The State ranks highest on infant mortality rate so my suggestion to the CM is to pay some attention to children instead of spewing out rhetoric on saving the cow progeny,” says Congress MLA and Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Ajay Singh.