Bovine brigade puts drunken drivers in the summer shade

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 March, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 March, 1996, 12:00am

THE onset of summer in the Indian capital raises not only the awesome spectre of soaring temperatures, power breakdowns and water shortages but also that of thousands of cows squatting on roads and strolling through traffic, causing mayhem on the streets.

The cows are confined to their pens during winter, but in summer their owners declare open season on all shade, water and grass across New Delhi and let their herds loose.

Police say this involves 35,000 cows owned by about 2,700 unlicensed milk dairies in the city.

Without stating the obvious, this is hazardous and, at times, infuriating.

It leads to commuters being stranded for ages during peak office hours as large herds of insouciant cows block roads, and traffic policemen convey their helplessness in clearing away the bovine brigade.

Dark-skinned cows are particularly menacing at night.

They squat in the middle of New Delhi's dimly lit roads, causing traffic to swerve dangerously away at the last minute, often leading to accidents.

Many such accidents involve inebriated drivers. Driving after heavy drinking in New Delhi, or any other part of India, is not uncommon. Rarely do the capital's police force check drivers, however uncontrolled their driving, for alcohol levels.

New Delhi's traffic police have identified 80 main roads where the cow menace is acute. But they plead helplessness because the municipal authorities are unwilling to help.

'These stray cows add to the number of accidents in Delhi, already the highest in the world,' a traffic police officer said.

The city has a road accident death rate of five people per day.

Police officials say the proliferation of cows on the streets is the cause.

Other than that from irate motorists, there has been little public pressure to remove the beasts.

People in most neighbourhoods are content with the easy availability of cheap milk.

Municipal officials admit they are hampered by meagre resources in combatting the cattle menace.

They have only four trucks and six cattle catchers for the entire city.

Besides, there are only six pounds capable of accommodating about 300 cows - highly inadequate if they are to rid New Delhi's streets of the animals.

Officials say they face another serious handicap which discourages them from impounding stray cows.

On the few occasions when zealous municipal inspectors have rounded up stray cattle and levied a fine of 1,000 rupees (HK$227) per head, they have been beaten up by incensed cattle owners, many of whom are wrestlers in their spare time.