The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Manipur government is known for its affection for the cow. Last May, Leichombam Erendro, a Harvard University alumnus and political candidate in the 2017 polls to the Manipur Legislative Assembly, and journalist Wangkhemcha Wangthoi had posted on social media that “cow dung and cow urine cannot cure Covid-19” after the death of Manipur BJP chief, S Tikendra Singh.
They were subsequently arrested and charged under the National Security Act. After spending a couple of months in jail, the duo was released thanks to a ruling by the Supreme Court and the charges against them were quashed.
Recently, however, the same government remained silent when a video was circulated on social media accusing it to be somehow involved in an illegal beef trade. Hundreds of prized high milk-yielding cows, known as Frieswal and costing more than Rs one lakh each, were gifted to state governments by the Union ministry of defence at a token price of Rs 1,000 each in 2018. The animals were meant to be distributed to farmers in Manipur to encourage them to take up dairy farming. It is alleged that upon reaching the state in 2020, the animals were straightaway sent to slaughterhouses and sold as beef. Interestingly, the price of beef hovers between Rs 600 and 800 a kilogram in Manipur.
Upon inquiry by this writer it was learnt that all cows of the now-closed Military Farms Services were offered to states. The MFS was first established on 1 February 1889 in Allahabad and the Indian Army announced on 31 March 2021 that after serving the nation for almost 132 years, the MFS was ending its services. With more than 30,000 milch cows at its disposal, the consignment meant for Manipur was to be sent from the MFS’s unit in Secunderabad.
Being aware of the journey of more than 3,400 kilometers from Telangana to Manipur, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad Dharma Prasar had urged Army authorities in 2019 to ensure proper safety measures and follow standard operating procedures while transporting the animals from Bowenpally in Secunderabad.
Members of the VHP Dharma Prasar and a non-governmental organisation called Sarva Jeevan Society had visited the Military Dairy Farm, with the help of local police, to make a plea regarding the measures to be taken while shifting the cows. Now, the question is about the fate of the cattle after their arrival in Manipur.
According to news clippings circulated on social media, the cows were not given to any beneficiary in Manipur but slaughtered and converted into beef. It has also been mentioned that the two people allegedly involved were V Hangkhalian, then minister-in-charge of agriculture, veterinary and animal husbandry, and Dr Chaoba Singh, then director of veterinary and animal husbandry. Interestingly, Hangkhalian was the one of the ministers dropped by chief minister N Biren Singh in his cabinet reshuffle in 2020.
Dr Singh also did not get an extended tenure and so, he retired.
It warrants mentioning here that when the Government of India decides to transfer a gift item to any state government, a receiving department of the state government concerned must be in place. In this case, since it involves milch cows, the department concerned must be the Directorate of Veterinary and Animal Husbandry.
This writer went to the Central Diary Branch of Manipur’s V&AH Directorate at Porompat in Imphal East, which ought to have been the unit in charge of the cows once they arrived in the state. Krishnamohon Singh, the deputy director-in-charge presently, said that although they had heard about the prized milch cows arriving in Manipur, they had not been “officially informed about any such arrival, let alone being asked to look after the stock”.
Then this writer met Dr Chabungbam Nandakishore, the present director of veterinary and animal husbandry, Government of Manipur, who assumed office in July 2021. He acknowledged that having got wind of the controversy through social media, he had summoned his junior officers and examined almost all the relevant files. But they drew a blank with no records whatsoever to even suggest that the cattle had reached Manipur. Therefore, according to official records, the hundreds of milch cows from the MFS unit in Telangana did not enter Manipur at all.
One wonders now if there ever was a decision by the Union ministry of defence to disburse the milch cows for distribution among states, following the policy decision to close the MFS. If yes, how many were allocated for Manipur and who was the authorised receiving agency of the Manipur government? Also, will the VHP Dharma Prasar in Telangana stand by the reported news of them suggesting measures to ensure the animals’ safe passage to Manipur?
These are questions that Union defence minister Rajnath Singh and leaders of the VHP must answer, alongside Manipur CM Biren Singh. It is high time that the saffron brigade takes stock of this report and acts accordingly.