At least 18 cows died of suffocation over the past few days at a shelter home managed by a village panchayat in Chhattisgarh's Balodabazar district.
Carcasses of 18 cows were recovered from Rohasi village on August 3, Balodabazar Collector Janak Prasad Pathak told PTI.
The incident came to light after local officials received information that carcasses of cows were being transported to be buried in the village, located around 70 km from the state capital, he said.
"Preliminary investigation revealed that the cows were locked in a room for the past few days and they died of suffocation," he said.
Some villagers were earlier worried about stray cattle damaging crops in their fields.
After discussing the issue among themselves, locals captured the stray cattle, including cows and buffaloes. They locked some of the animals in a room at a 'kanji house' (cow shelter) in the village and tied other cattle in an open area on the premises, Pathak said.
When no person came to claim ownership of the animals, the villagers, who were finding it difficult to provide water and fodder, released the cattle tied in the open area of the shelter home, he said.
However, they allegedly did not notice the cattle locked in the room at the shelter home, managed by the village panchayat, he said.
When they noticed a foul smell emanating from the place on August 3, they checked the room and found the animals dead inside it, Pathak said.
While the villagers were transporting the carcasses on tractors for disposal, someone informed the local officials who reached the spot, he said.
After the autopsy, all the carcasses were disposed of in a deep pit dug in the village. Adequate measures have been taken to avoid the spread of any epidemic in the village due to the incident, the collector said.
"The cattle remained closed for four days in a room that was not large enough to accommodate 18 animals. Therefore, they died of suffocation," he said.
An inquiry has been ordered into the incident and further action will be taken accordingly, he said.
A team of veterinary doctors was sent to the spot to look after the other animals, Pathak added.
In August last year, the Raman Singh government in Chhattisgarh had came under attack from the opposition Congress over the death of a large number of cows in three state-aided shelters.
According to the state officials, over 200 cows had died in three shelters between August 16 and 18 last year allegedly due to starvation and lack of care.
One of the cow sheds, named 'Shagun Gaushala', was run by a local BJP leader in Durg district, while the other two shelters in Bemetara were operated by his relatives.
The state government had then constituted a judicial commission to probe the incident.