At least 50 cows died due to suffocation in a room in panchayat bhavan in Chhattisgarh's Bilaspur district, officials said on Saturday.
District Magistrate Saransh Mittar said the deaths were reported after residents of village Merpar Bazaar under Takhatpur area complained of a foul odour coming from the room.
"Preliminary information has revealed that 60 cattle were kept in the claustrophobic panchayat bhawan in the village for the last couple of days by the sarpanch. We have rescued 20 of them, while 40 have died due to suffocation," Mittar was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times. The total number of deaths rose according to latest reports.
An FIR was filed against the village sarpanch and the secretary on charges of negligence in the death of cows under provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and relevant section of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Speaking to the media, Chief Minister Bhupesh Bhagel said he directed the District Magistrate and the Superintendent (SP) to probe into the matter. "Based on the findings of the probe, stringent action will be taken against the guilty," he said.
A resident said villagers had kept the cattle inside a small room and did not take care of their food and water, which perhaps led to the incident. After receiving the report, senior officials reached the village and started preparations to bury the cattle, he added.
The BJP has attacked the state government over the death of the cows. Leader of Opposition in the state assembly, Dharamlal Kaushik said that "on the one hand, the state government was going over-board with its 'cow protection schemes' while on the other such incidents are happening which has swept the region and the state with anger."
Former Chief Minister Dr Raman Singh also took strong objection to the case and said that cows are 'sacred' and deaths in such a large scale is 'gau-hatya' which is no less than a grave sin. "It's a wake-up call for the state government as all the schemes (on cows) that are being run on paper," he said.
However, state Agriculture Minister Ravindra Chaubey said that the cowshed was not covered under Gauthan scheme nor it was a 'kanji' house (shed for stray cattle) under the gram panchayat. The sarpanch had made this arrangement with locals and several animals were kept inside a small room and died in an unfortunate manner and someone has to take the blame, he added.