Correct, the ancient Vedic culture actively advocates and promotes cow protection.
There are a few reasons for why the cow is considered holy:
- Traditional Deity worship required pancagavya, or five ingredients, which are cow dung, cow urine, milk, ghee, and curd. Cow dung has antiseptic properties, cow urine has medicinal properties, milk is nutritious, ghee is required for fire yajnas, and curd is made into many preparations which are then offered to the Deities as part of worship.
- Traditional Vedic culture also lists the cow as one of the seven mothers.
- Krishna is worshiped as protector of the cows by Vedic mantras, specifically:
namo brahmanya devaya
go-brahmana hitaya ca
govindaya no namaha
Unfortunately, there is little, if any, environmental regulations in India, and cows are often neglected as well.
I know in Vrindavana, a prominent holy place, there has been an active campaign to stop the use of all plastic bags within the city, and there are a few organizations which take in stray cows and rehabilitate them.
Plastic bags now banned in Vrindavana
Care for Cows: rescuing abandoned cows in Vrindavana