'Purchasing Cattle Invites Either Extortion or Murder, So Why Will We Risk Our Lives?'

Amid fear of 'gau rakshak' attacks in Rajasthan, cattle sale at fairs has hit an all-time low.

Camel herders arrive at Pushkar Camel fair in Rajasthan. Credit: PTI

Camel herders arrive at Pushkar camel fair in Rajasthan. Credit: PTI

Jaipur: With strict regulations on cattle fairs and a growing number of attacks on dairy farmers transporting cattle in Rajasthan, the arrival of animals in the state livestock fairs fell by 63% between 2012-13 and 2017-18, according to the data of the state animal husbandry department. Due to this, the cumulative income of cattle owners in 2017-18 declined to Rs 24.20 crore from Rs 73.01 crore in 2012-13, and the state income dropped to Rs 1.04 lakh from Rs 7 lakh in the corresponding years.

While the arrival and transaction of animals as well as revenue generation in the ten state-level cattle fairs have been continuously decreasing since 2012-13, the sale of govansh (cattle heads) in the Pushkar, Bharatpur and Karauli cattle fairs last year drastically dropped to eight, six and two respectively from 2,248, 4,697 and 11,848 in the year 2012-13. Sale of sheep in the fair has remained a constant nil except in the year 2016-17, when for the first time, it touched 80.

While the high court has pulled up the state government for not enforcing the Rajasthan state cattle fairs act, no protection has been sought from the cow-related attacks and lynchings on the dairy farmers that have proliferated since 2014. In Rajasthan, from 2015 to 2017, 1113 cases were lodged by the police under the Rajasthan Bovine Animal Act.

“No matter how legally one is purchasing and transporting cattle, police and the self-styled gau rakshaks can’t look beyond ‘a cow being taken’. For them, a cow being transported by farmers only implies slaughtering. Today, purchasing cattle invites either extortion or murder, so, why will we risk our lives?” said Bihari Lal, a farmer from Rajsamand who despite possessing documents to transport bullocks from a cattle fair was registered for smuggling under the Rajasthan Bovine Animal Act.

“I had white chithi (printed bill of sale on a white paper) and rawana (receipt of fair tax, tolls and other fees payable under the act) of the 15 bullocks I purchased from the fair but still they confiscated my bullocks and wrongly accused me of smuggling. Now, I had to work as a labourer in the village as all my wealth is drained in fighting the false case,” he added.

On being asked about the safety regulations for the participant farmers, Ajay Kumar Gupta, director of the Rajasthan Department of Animal Husbandry, told The Wire that the cattle and livestock fairs remain fully protected from vigilantes, the dairy farmers are attacked on their way back, which is a grave law and order problem but out of the ambit of the animal husbandry department.

“The cattle fairs are totally safe and well-organised to provide the buyers with required documents, but as soon as the farmers leave the fair with their cattle, the cow vigilantes attack them. They ask for money first, if the farmer denies, they kill him mercilessly. The dairy farmers are so scared to transport cattle on highways that they now avoid going to these cattle fairs. With such conditions persisting, the improvement in the performance of these fairs is highly unlikely,” Paras Banjara, associated with the Banjara Vikas Shakti Sangathan, told The Wire.

Significant drop in the sale of state animal

To check on the dwindling number of camels, the Rajasthan government in 2014 made camel as its state animal. However, the arrival and transaction of the camel owners is on a drastic decline. In the world’s largest fair for camels, Pushkar fair, a mere 410 camels were sold last year as compared to the sale of 2,948 camels in 2012-13.

“In the Pushkar fair last year, I sold seven big camels for mere Rs 17,000. Before the camel was declared the state animal, they were sold at Rs 15,000. The money the state government gives to support the camel owners is not enough to even feed them, leave anything else,” Dungaram, a camel owner from Pali, told The Wire.

There has been a negative trend in the arrival, transaction and revenue generation of camel sale in all the fairs since 2012-13. Camel sale improved slightly from 15,633 in 2010-11 to 16,986 in 2011-12, but since then, it has been declining continuously.

“One of the reasons for the drastic drop in camel sale at the Pushkar fair is that camels are not allowed to move out of Rajasthan for any purpose. Why will a person rear an animal if it can’t be sold or put to any use? In winter season particularly, the camels turn aggressive. Complaints are coming of camels attacking the villagers,” Hanwant Singh of the Lokhit Pashu Palak Sansthan told The Wire.

Transportation specifications

While hearing a writ petition filed by Gau Raksha Dal Seva Samiti Rajasthan, the Jodhpur high court directed the state government to strictly enforce and carry out the provisions of the Transport of Animal Rules, 1978, that notify the approximate weight of animals, space required and ‘special type of tail board and padding around the sides’ for being transported in railway wagon and goods vehicle.

Moreover, in July 2015, a gazette notification by the Union government introduced the Central Motor Vehicles (Eleventh Amendment) Rules, 2015, on special requirements of motor vehicles used for transportation of livestock by road. A regional transport officer has to issue ‘special licence’ for the motor vehicles employed for cattle transportation, and such vehicles cannot be employed for any other use.

“In our country, we don’t have vehicles that are specifically designed for cattle transportation. Also, the motor vehicle transporting livestock cannot be used for transporting other goods. Such impractical guidelines make it impossible for an average dairy farmer to follow them,” said an official who didn’t wish to be named.

The state government had advertised the transport of animal rules notified by the ministry of environment and forests for restricting the maximum number of animals that could be transported to and from the cattle fair.

“There were strict orders on the number of animals that could be transported in the goods vehicle for the cattle fairs,” said S.S. Chandawat, the joint director of the animal husbandry department, Ajmer.

“Initially, farmers used to buy cattle in bulk from the fairs so as to sell them in other small fairs in their towns but now there is unsaid restriction on the number of cattle a farmer can buy. Today, if a farmer wants to purchase a dozen of bullocks, then he will be questioned endlessly on why he wants to take them. Limit on the animals that can be purchased is set as per land holding size. Today, no small farmer is allowed to take as many cattle as he wishes,” said an official on the condition of anonymity.

Amendment to confiscate vehicles under the Bovine Act

The Rajasthan government in a cabinet meeting chaired by chief minister Vasundhara Raje on Monday decided to amend the state’s Bovine Animals Act to include the confiscation of vehicles used in illegal transportation of bovines. This amendment will not apply in cases of illegal transportation of buffaloes.

Contrastingly, in the last three years, the state police seized 1,051 vehicles transporting cattle in the 1,113 cases registered under the act.

Ban on taking bovines under three years of age out of state 

According to the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1955, “bovine” includes – cow, calf, heifer, bull or bullock – all above the age of three years. Sale of bovines below three years of age is restricted in the state, which is one of the factors that has led to decrease in demand of the cattle for agricultural purpose.

“By the time the livestock are three, they get matured and their adjustment level drops. For the farmers, it’s a big issue to handle them. Already, the mechanisation has surpassed the utility of animal power. Discussions are going on to reduce the age limit of bovines to two but how much impact even that amendment will have is also under question,” Ajay Kumar Gupta told The Wire.

Restriction on number of cattle to be sold in the fairs

Noting that ‘the need of animal meat in Bangladesh and opening of meat processing has raised a demand of cattle to be exported outside Rajasthan’, the high court asked the competent authority to strictly adhere to the act to allow maximum number of cattle to be sold in such fairs so that the sale ‘in no way reduces the number of bovine animal below the actual requirement of the local area.’

Long list of documentary proof before purchase of cattle

The Rajasthan high court had issued several directions to the state government regarding the state cattle fairs. The buyers, who want to take the animal outside the state, are required to provide an affidavit that the animal is being bought only for the purpose of use for agriculture with sufficient proof of their agricultural holdings. They also need to bring a certificate from the district collector saying that ‘such person is not engaged in slaughter of animals in any manner, nor is he an agent of any slaughter house.’

No cattle are allowed to be transported from the fairs unless the sale is accompanied with the medical certificate of the cattle and identification mark on them.

A report on the execution of these rules is submitted to the court every two months by a cell constituted in the animal husbandry department.

“Animal husbandry is also an industry, if one takes it in that way, it will boost the Indian economy but if it is associated with religious sentiments then no department in this country is more helpless than ours,” said a senior official who didn’t wish to be named.

Shruti Jain is a freelance journalist.