The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Digvijay grabs Gehlot’s cattle by the horns

Bhopal, Jan. 6: After water, two Congress-ruled states are ready to fight over fodder.

This time, however, the main players are not Kerala and Karnataka, but Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Chief ministers of Congress-ruled states rushing to party chief Sonia Gandhi to settle inter-state disputes over power, water and land is nothing new.

In the latest “family” spat, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh has complained to Sonia against Rajasthan’s move to “unleash” its 40,00,000 cattle in its forests and on its agricultural land.

Rajasthan’s excuse is its “grave drought situation” that has forced the cattle to stray outside the state in search of fodder.

Chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s regime has gone a step ahead and said the cattle grazing in Madhya Pradesh would help the neighbouring state’s agricultural land become more fertile as “menginis” (animal waste) is said to be the finest source of fertiliser.

Madhya Pradesh, rattled by the invading herds of sheep and camels, has reacted with a steep hike in cattle-entry fee from Rs 8 an animal to Rs 40. Most sheep and camel owners have taken the easy way out: default and pay the fine, but not the revised fee.

The defaulters are encouraged by the Madhya Pradesh forest conservation officers’ dilemma in “punishing” them.

Under the Indian Forest Act, forest officers can confiscate the cattle and jail the defaulting owner for a year.

But confiscating cattle would mean feeding them daily. The impracticality of the whole situation has prevented the officers from acting tough with the defaulters.

A senior forest department official in Bhopal said: “The cattle are rattling us. There is no way out other than political and moral pressure which I applied on Rajasthan. The damage can never be calculated in rupees because reckless grazing not only ruins the crop but also makes the land barren.”

According to the forest officers, cattle from Rajasthan can pass through Madhya Pradesh but only over prescribed routes.

For example, the cattle can enter Malighat, Shahpur, and Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh from Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan to finally reach Itawa in Uttar Pradesh.

The other route is from Shahbad in Rajasthan to Guna in Madhya Pradesh and on to Lalitpur in Uttar Pradesh.

In the recent months, however, several instances of cattle going astray have been reported.

With Assembly polls coming up in both Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, Sonia is in a fix. She is unable to take a firm stand for if she sides with Madhya Pradesh, it would spark a furore in Rajasthan.

Her failure to “discipline” the Gehlot regime, however, would make the Congress unpopular in Madhya Pradesh.

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