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New Delhi Residents Welcome Stray Cow Roundup - 2003-10-10

In the Indian capital, authorities are rounding up stray cattle that have made Delhi's streets their home for many years. Most of the city' s residents have welcomed the move.

The cow is a sacred animal for India's majority Hindu population. But most Delhi residents also find the animals a nuisance. An estimated 36,000 stray cattle live on the streets. They feed at garbage dumps and squat placidly on the roads, as resigned motorists maneuver around them.

The cows sometimes appear in the middle of major intersections, blithely unaware of honking horns and the rush-hour traffic that has screeched to a halt.

Several months ago, H.D. Shourie, who is the head of a consumer activist organization called Common Cause, presented a Delhi court with a petition stating that the cows are a traffic menace, and should be removed.

"Now, this is something, which can be very dangerous, from the point of view of traffic," he said. "It hampers traffic, but it can cause also damage, from the point of view of serious accidents."

Prodded by the court, the city's civic authorities have decided it is time for this enduring symbol of Delhi to move. Last month, 12 trucks around the city began rounding up the bovines.

But this is not an easy task.

On a hot morning, eight men struggle to lasso a cow that does not want to be loaded onto the truck. The men pant and puff, while trying to avoid her kicking hooves. Finally, the cow is prodded onto the vehicle with a stick, and joins seven others that were caught that morning. They are on their way to an animal shelter run by a non-governmental organization on the outskirts of Delhi.

Vijay Kumar is one of the workers involved in snaring the animals.

Mr. Kumar says it is tough and exhausting work, and his hands and feet often get hurt by the cows.

In spite of the difficulties of rounding up the animals, most city residents, like 70-year-old Ram Kirti, are happy to see the bovines taken away.

"It is a sin to touch these holy animals, but it is better they are caught and taken than left to live on the streets," she said. "They fill our area with cow dung and make it filthy."

Municipal officer S.K. Yadav is in charge of ridding Delhi's streets of cows. He says many of the cows are stray, older animals abandoned when they could no longer give milk.

Many of them also belong to scores of illegal dairies that have sprung up in the capital in recent years. The dairy owners do not have space to house the animals, so they milk the cows, then let them loose in the city to fend for themselves.

Mr. Yadav's task is to round up all these animals within a year. He organizes what are called "special raids" twice a week.

"In special raids, we round up minimum 150 to 200 animals each day," said S.K. Yadav. "Without conducting special raids, we can't achieve this target; actually. The target is very high - 36,000 [cows]. Last month, we have rounded up 1,800 stray cattle."

The authorities may manage to nab all the animals, but the beast's futures are uncertain. The shelters around Delhi are filling rapidly, and will soon have difficulty accommodating more. And because the cows are considered sacred to Hindus, the authorities cannot slaughter them.

Municipal authorities are still debating where the cows will go, once the shelters hit maximum capacity.

Could it be back to the familiar streets, wonder some cynical residents?