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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 September, 2003, 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK
Hard times for holy cows

By Adam Mynott
BBC South Asia correspondent

The sacred cow, one of the enduring symbols of the Indian capital Delhi, is gradually being moved from the streets.

A cow being taken off a Delhi street
The authorities have decided there are too many of them and they are not just a nuisance but also a menace.

So for the 36,000 cows wandering around Delhi it is time to go.

And it is not just cows - Delhi's monkeys are also finding that life is getting tougher.

The Delhi authorities on Tuesday began a drive to round up stray cattle.

This is hot and dangerous work.

Under the baking Indian sun I watch eight men struggling with ropes and poles to get one of the stray bovines into the back of a truck.

The cow - a huge, angry animal - does not like the idea and she has got a powerful kick and long sharp horns.

Traffic hazard

A vet employed with the city council, Dr SK Yadav, says it has been a successful morning.

Twenty-five cows have been secured and removed from Delhi's streets.

"Cows are a serious problem. They wander all over the roads, causing serious traffic jams and they are responsible for some serious accidents," says Dr Yadav.

He is right.
cows in Delhi
Cows hold up traffic regularly on Delhi roads

On a Delhi market road, some eight cows have gathered, largely because there is a rubbish dump nearby.

They are feeding on the rubbish and wandering to and fro across the road, blocking all traffic.

Clearly, they are a law unto themselves.

The problem has got worse recently as hundreds of illegal dairies have sprung up in Delhi.

Their owners deliberately let them loose so that the animals fend for themselves.

But to many of the thousands of tourists who come to Delhi, cows wandering aimlessly around the city are part of its unique charm.

"The fact that animals are living with people on the streets of Delhi is beautiful. There are cows and dogs, and nobody's shouting at them, nobody's chasing them," one tourist told me.

"It's part of the culture you know. As a traveller you're going to other countries to explore other cultures, so I like it."

But this is a 'culture' that the Delhi civic authorities are no longer happy to promote.

What do they do with the cows after lifting them off the streets?

Many of the animals are old - no longer capable of giving milk.

But they are sacred beasts in Hindu religion and no harm must come to them.

So the cows are being taken to compounds on the outskirts of the city. Here they adjust to a diet of hay rather their usual rubbish from the streets of Delhi.

It is estimated that each cow in Delhi has an average about 300 plastic bags in its stomach.

Simian menace

But cows are not the only animals that have attracted the attention of the authorities.

They are also trying to get rid of thousands of monkeys which clamber all over the buildings of the ancient city.

The monkeys, another sacred Hindu creature, usually hang around tourist areas.

Delhi street monkey
Monkeys loitering on the roads also pose a problem
They are usually fed bananas by the tourists and when not supplied with food they steal it.

The monkeys are considered a pest. The Government and large companies pay out large sums of money to keep them off their buildings.

Here it takes a thief to catch a thief.

Large black-faced Langur monkeys in the hands of experienced trainers like Vijay Kumar are used to scare off their simian cousins.

"There were lots of monkeys here, they used to attack people and damage the parked cars. People were terrified of them," said Mr Kumar.

"So the company called me in. Now the monkeys have all been scared off by my langur."

The problem with both the cows and the monkeys is what to do with them.

No state in India wants to take the captured animals off Delhi's hands. So they are being held in detention while their future is determined.

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