Three years ago. when retired government officer Ashok Kumar started collecting vegetable waste from garbage heaps in Subzi Mandi of Shimla, everyone including his relatives made fun of him. But Kumar, who had retired from a Class 1 post in the Public Works Department (PWD) in 2014 , didn’t falter and continued his daily routine silently. Now his efforts have been recognised and appreciated by one and all.

Vegetables vendors keep aside good quality stalks and vegetables, segregating it from the other waste. “Since the age of 3-4 years, I used to accompany my father whenever any animal got injured in our village in Mubarakpur, Una. We used to tend to the animal,” 64-year-old Ashok Kumar tells TheStatesman. “My passion for working for the welfare of stray cows continued into adulthood but after joining a job, I got busy with my work.

Though I wanted to follow my passion but the busy work schedule kept me away from it,” he says. A deeply religious man, Kumar decided to follow his inner voice and started collecting vegetables from waste material in Shimla in 2014. Since then, he has been a regular contributor of dry and green fodder to all the cow shelters located in and around Shimla.

He is even supplying the fodder to gaushalasas far as Karsog in Mandi district, around 110 km from Shimla. At around 5 p.m. daily, Kumar picks up empty sacks from his house in Middle Bazaar, Shimla and starts his routine of collecting vegetable waste thrown out by green grocers. Though his work has been made easy by the vendors, he faces several constraints, including scarcity of labourers for loading the material in vehicles on Cart Road, which is around 500 metres from the vegetable market. Ashok Kumar spends his entire pension on this charitable work.

The only hitch comes when there is shortage of labour, or when vehicles provided by gaushalas develop a snag. “As I was associated with several temples in and around Shimla and knew the priests, I used to send dry fodder to their shelter homes for stray animals. However, one day, a priest told me that they also need green fodder. It inspired me to collect anything that can used as green fodder,” he says.

Kumar collects around 35 sacks of waste vegetables and supplies them to nine gaushalas located in Shimla as per demand. His out-of-pocket expenditure amounts to around Rs 40,000 a month. Now, he even collects leftover food from gurudwaras in Shimla for shelter homes for stray animals. He, however, is quite disheartened about the government’s apathy towards social workers and gaushalasin managing day-to-day affairs.

“There is lack of support from the government for shelter homes for stray animals,” he says. Talking about violence in the name of gau raksha, his theory is that some anti-social elements are out to defame gau rakshaks by orchestrating violence.

“The government provides security and facilitates to the people running slaughter houses but there is literally no support for persons who are running shelter homes for cows and are working voluntarily to help in running such facilities,” he says. Kumar is now seeking financial help from all quarters as rising cost of labour and dilapidated condition of vehicles are creating hindrances in his noble, self appointed mission.