How Many Cows Does India Have? The Govt is Yet to Start Counting
Cattle census is part of the five-yearly livestock census. 
Cattle census is part of the five-yearly livestock census. (TheQuint/Erum Gour)

How Many Cows Does India Have? The Govt is Yet to Start Counting

India, in recent times, has learnt a lot about its bovine population. We know their “horns absorb radioactivity” and their “gomutra acts as an excellent floor cleaner”. What we do not know about our bovine population, though, is their population.

Why though?

Because the government hasn’t gotten around to counting it yet.

The 20th Livestock Census was scheduled to commence in July 2017. Thirteen months later, the project is yet to take off. Senior officials of the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairy and Fisheries (DAHDF) have told The Quint that the counting is finally expected to kick off by end September. This means that the government is still relying on data from the 2012 census for decisions related to livestock.

The census, held every five years, will be conducted digitally on tablets for the first time. However, this is where the government has stumbled. Tablets were meant to expedite the survey process but, ironically, have emerged as the reason for the delay. 

“The census will start very soon, most probably in September itself,” a senior official of DAHDF told TheQuint. “Most states have acquired the tablets but some are yet to get them. More than 50,000 tablets are being procured countrywide for the census,” he added.

Digital India Roadblocks

The Centre’s Digital India initiative, meant to transform the Livestock Census process, has led to a yearlong delay and counting.

The tablets are being introduced as a part of digitising the census and making it more efficient and quicker. Till the last census in 2012, the exercise was carried out manually by field enumerators. They would submit the data to block level supervisors, which would then move up to the district and state levels for verification.

Having spoken with the central and state animal husbandry departments, it appears there are two reasons behind the continuous delays. First, a number of states are yet to receive the tablets and, second, issues in the cloud server where the data will be uploaded and stored.
The login page of the livestock census app. 
The login page of the livestock census app. 
(Photo Courtesy: DAHDF)

The tablets were supposed to be procured by the Centre and distributed among the states. However, according to reports, it was announced in April 2017 that the states would be handed this responsibility. When The Quint contacted some of the state departments, four out of five said they were yet to receive the consignment of tablets. The Centre will bear 90 percent of the total cost and the remainder is to be paid by the respective states.

According to senior animal husbandry department officers, the cloud servers, developed and maintained by the National Informatics Center (NIC), had developed issues in August 2018.

A communication about the same was sent to the states, something a senior Haryana state official confirmed. “We were ready to commence operations on 20 August but received a letter stating that the process would be delayed till the server is ready to store data from the tablets,” the officer told The Quint.

The NIC, tasked with developing a security audited application to carry out the process, however, denied any delays from its end. A senior official, when contacted, stated that from its end all preparations are complete.

“We have made a full demonstration of our application to the ministry and it has been received very well. The audit report of the application is yet to come and once it does we’ll be ready in a week’s time,” the NIC officer said.

How Tablets Can Improve the Census

A special mobile application, available on Google Play Store, has been developed for data collection.

As the data gets keyed into the app installed in tablet, it will be uploaded to a central portal. State level supervisors and officers will have access to the portal and only after they have verified the data, will it get entered into the census.

According to DAHD and NIC officials, this new digital mode of surveying promises several benefits:

  • Real Time Monitoring : “What the digitisation will enable is real-time monitoring of the census across states and districts. The ministry will be able to track the ground-level data as it is uploaded,” a senior officer of National Informatics Centre (NIC) told The Quint.
  • Better Quality Data: Officials said the data will be fed and uploaded on a daily basis. This will ensure a day-to-day tracking and analysis of data across the country.
  • More Insightful Analysis: The app will enable the collected data to be analysed thoroughly to provide more granular and detailed insights.
  • Greater Accountability: Supervisors will be able to track the field enumerators and monitor their ground work. This can ensure that the schedules are adhered to and enumerators complete their stages on time.

Why Livestock Census is of Vital Importance

Bovine animals are central to the rural economy. They not only contribute to the income of farmers, but more importantly, act as guaranteed insurance. Farmers trade their livestock to raise instant capital in case of a calamity, for medical expenses, marriages or for an upcoming crop season.

The census is of vital importance also because it will throw light on the impact of the government’s extension of the prohibition of cow slaughter to bulls and bullocks in 2015. A report by the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) revealed the economic distress in rural marketplaces caused by the ban. Cattle owners find it increasingly difficult to trade their livestock to raise capital in the aftermath of the ban and the subsequent violence.

According to the 19th Census of 2012, the livestock sector contributes 4.11 percent to the national economy in terms of the total GDP. India is home to the largest livestock population in the world with a holding of 11.6 percent of the world’s livestock.

A Tab on the State’s Tabs

According to DAHDF, it conducted a video conference under the chairmanship of Animal Husbandry Commissioner with Principal Secretaries of all states/UTs to review the implementation of various issues including the procurement of tablets.


According to DAHDF officials, some states are yet to procure their share of tablets. Rajasthan, a state that has recently made headlines for cattle related lynchings, is among those that are yet to receive its consignment.

“We have not been supplied the tablets yet but will be receiving them by 5 September,” a senior officer of Rajasthan Government’s Department of Animal Husbandry told The Quint. “We are expecting an order of 2,358 tablets in the first batch and have plans to procure more soon after,” he added. Rajasthan has earmarked a total of 3,559 enumerators for field data collection, in which case, it will require about 1,200 more tablets.


The Government of Haryana’s Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying has adopted a different approach altogether. According to a senior official involved in the process, they have borrowed 2,800 tablets from the state IT department.

“We have borrowed the tablets for three months and will return them to the state IT Department once the census has concluded,” the officer said.


The mountain state has issued a tender for 680 tablets and expects to receive them soon.

“What is yet to be finalised though is the mapping process. Mapping is the creation of data codes for each village and each breed of animal to be surveyed. This is essential for a digital census,” an officer of the state animal husbandry department said.


A senior state official said they have floated a tender of 3,000 tablets but were yet to receive the consignment. The official refused to divulge other details about the level of preparedness or the training for field workers.

Taking Stock of Livestock

First held in 1919, the livestock census has been delayed only twice previously – in 1971 and 2002. The last census was held in 2012. Therefore the current available data on India’s cattle and other livestock population is at least six years old.

Apart from cows, bullocks and buffaloes, the Livestock Census will also count yaks, sheep, donkeys, mules, horses, pigs, goats, camels, elephants and dogs.

Cats may have succeeded in taking over the internet but it appears that India’s feline community has found little favour in the government’s census books.
(TheQuint/ Erum Gour)

So what does the last census of 2012 tell us about our domestic animals ?

  • While the total exotic/foreign breeds of cattle grew by over 20 percent in 2012, the ‘swadeshi’ breeds recorded a decline of nearly 9 percent.
  • India’s canine population has broken a few hearts with a drop in its population. Its 2012 population of 11.60 million is a decline of nearly 39 percent from its 2007 figure.
  • The population of domestic elephants grew drastically from 1,000 in 2007 to 22,000 in 2012.
  • Rabbits of India have been impressive in propagating their kind. They stand at 0.59 million, a rise of nearly 40 percent from 2007.
  • Indian donkeys seem to have taken their foot off the pedal a little. Their population in 2012 displayed a sharp drop by 27.17 percent to stand at 3,19,000.

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