Meerut, a major town of western Uttar Pradesh, seems headed for an environmental and public health nightmare as a large number of animal skinners have threatened to stop lifting dead animals from next month if the attacks on them by cow vigilantes do not stop immediately.While threat to life is one issue, the other is the monetary impact of a de facto ban on skinning. If they cannot skin a dead cow and sell its hide to the leather industry, they are left with no incentive to lift the animal, let alone risk to their lives to do so.Ovindra Pal, 51, a cattle skinner who heads one of the co-operative societies that lift dead cattle in Meerut, said that his team of animal skinners was attacked three times in the last one week.Authorised jobThe job of skinning dead animals is authorised by municipal laws, which mandate animal skinners to lift every dead animal, including cows, in Meerut. It requires them to dispose of the carcasses in a place that has been allotted for it by the Meerut Municipal Corporation (MMC).“We have never been so scared of the cow vigilantes as we are these days, under the Yogi Adityanath government,” said Mr Pal.Mr. Pal and his group of cow skinners operating in Meerut have decided not to renew their government contract for lifting dead animals once it expires in April.It hasn’t helped their cause that the mayor of Meerut, Harikant Ahluwalia, has publicly expressed his support to the cow vigilante groups. Mr. Ahluwalia, who is also a senior BJP leader, told The Hindu that he would ask “officials to take strict action if someone skins a dead cow.” Mr. Pal said that cow vigilantes had warned him many times to stop skinning dead cows, and simply bury them instead. But that is not acceptable to Pal and his group of skinners. “In the financial year 2015-16, the three cooperatives of animal skinners who cover entire Meerut city paid a total of ₹11 lakh to the MMC for their contract, whose official value was ₹8 lakh. The only point of attraction in this work was the skin of dead cows, which is in great demand. The skin sells for ₹2000-3000, while bones fetch ₹300.” Mr. Pal said.But of late, with the cow vigilantes not letting him do his job, it has increasingly become an “unprofitable business”.“If the cow vigilantes do not like what we do, then the civic body needs to change the law. Our work is legitimised by the UP Co-Cooperative Societies Act 1965,” said Sanjay, another cow skinner. Most of the senior officials of the MMC, where the BJP is in power, expressed apprehension about an environmental crisis awaiting the city if the skinners stop lifting dead animals.