There are two key factors that contribute to the problem of street cows in Kathmandu:
Firstly, in Nepal and most states of India, the cow is a sacred animal and the slaughter of cattle is prohibited by law. Indeed, cows are the national animal of Nepal and harsh penalties exist for those who do not respect their sanctity. Unlike in most of the west, their meat is taboo and as a result, although they have great religious and cultural significance, they have less economic value.
Secondly, despite it being illegal to kill or injure a cow, cattle are widely used in the dairy industry to produce milk. To produce milk, a heifer needs to be continually impregnated and to give birth. Female calves are valued as they increase the supply of milk and are necessary to eventually replace their mothers when their supply decreases. Male calves on the other hand have little use and may be described as a ‘waste by-product’ of the dairy industry.
There is no use for these calves and keeping them is expensive. Their owners thus have to face the dilemma of either keeping and feeding them (which is guaranteed to entail a considerable cost for many years to come) or abandoning them (which leaves them susceptible to a fine but only if they are caught). Many opt for the later option and think the risk worth taking.