New Delhi, May 3, 2005: The Delhi High Court has ordered officials to clean up one of the biggest menaces prowling the wide avenues, luscious parks and crowded bazaars of the capital New Delhi -- holy cows.
About 35,000 cows and buffaloes roam free in Delhi in the heart of India’s "cow belt", sharing roads with hordes of monkeys, camels and stray dogs and killing scores of people every year in gorings and traffic accidents.
Most are owned by residents who let them graze on grass and rubbish dumps and sell the milk to thousands of illegal dairies supplying New Delhi's 14 million people.
Delhi's High Court ordered the city authorities to clear the streets more than three years ago and about 30,000 animals have since been picked up, most later dying in state shelters.
But angry at the city's failure to finish the job and under pressure from non-government groups, the court last week ordered the municipal authorities to speed up their efforts and gave them a week to convince it they had a workable solution.
Flustered officials are in a bind. Many of the strays are owned by people with powerful political or criminal connections and round-up crews sometimes need police guards.
Sceptical cow owners are also simply shifting their beasts for now to ride out what they see as a passing campaign.
"It's all a ploy to make more money," 35-year veteran Rajesh Sharma told the India Abroad News Service. "These cows and bulls have been roaming around in the streets even before the British came to India. It's just a temporary gimmick."
The city is toying with implanting microchips in cows to identify them and record medical history. But the $20 a beast cost has angered owners. Non-government groups say the government just doesn't have the resources to deal with the problem.
"If they fail to prevent the movement of cows on city roads, then cattle-catching should be privatised, said Meira Bhatia, a lawyer at the Deli-based NGO Common Cause, which launched the original court case and last week urged faster action. "The authorities have failed to comply with the court's judgment."
Meanwhile, the city is also infested with thousands of monkeys blamed for attacking people and stealing medicine from hospitals and files from government offices.
The monkeys are too smart for traps, sterilisation is too costly, animal rights groups fight round-ups and they are well-fed and protected by residents who consider them auspicious.
Thousands of people pour into temples and leave offerings of food around the city every Tuesday, the monkey-god's day.
Delhi plastic surgeons say the biggest source of work among children in the city is treating monkey bites. The monkey problem has become worse since 1978, when India, then the world's largest supplier, banned the exporting of monkeys for medical research.
But in Delhi, authorities can do little more than fine people for feeding them and calling in specially trained, larger and more aggressive long-tailed langur monkeys to scare them off.