Strict rules that resulted in a virtual ban on cattle trade and the fear factor that followed mob lynching of cattle trader Pehlu Khan in Alwar, is impacting not just animal husbandry but also agriculture in Rajasthan. Farmers and experts complain that stray cattle has become a menace as they enter fields and eat crops because farmers are in no position to spend for rearing non-milching cattle and their male progenies.

The regulation has become an electoral issue and farmers’ organisations have demanded that it should be lifted so that “food security” can be ensured. It was the BJP government headed by Bhairon Singh Shekhawat that first brought the Rajasthan Bovine Animal Act in 1998. According to the State government, more than 80 per cent of the rural families keep livestock, and the contribution of animal husbandry sector to the GDP of the State is around 9.16 per cent. “About 35 per cent of the income of the small and marginal farmers comes from dairy and animal husbandry. In arid areas, the contribution is as high as 50 per cent,” states the livestock development policy of the government.

Changing patterns

But experts said a number of changes are visible in the livestock pattern of the State due to flowed policies. “The ban on slaughtering cow was a mistake. Slaughtering is required in some ways because 50 per cent of the cattle is male progeny. With the increasing use of tractors, farmers have no use of bullocks. Lakhs of bullocks have thus become stray animals,” said MS Rathore, retired professor of Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur.

He said the restrictions on cattle trade have shifted the focus of farmers from the “political animal”, cow, to buffaloes. “Earlier, farmers depended on indigenous breed of cows. Now, they prefer buffaloes. Buffalo milk gives them more money due to the fat content and there is no ban on its trade,” the retired professor said adding that the cow shelters are insufficient to look after the stray cattle.

Farmers’ organisations and Opposition parties have been targeting the BJP on this. As per the 2012 livestock census, Rajasthan has 577.32 lakh livestock, one of the largest in the country. The State has huge local markets for cattle. “I used to sell my old and non-milching cows and buffaloes at such markets to buy new ones. But the market wasn’t set up this year. People are scared to buy cattle from here,” said Gyanchand, a farmer near Kota. He said he had to employ a person to ensure that cattle does not enter the fields.

Cattle trading

All India Kisan Sabha leader Dulichand Borda said due to attacks on cattle traders, local markets have been forced to shut or reduce the numbers of trade days. “The impact on farming due to this is yet to be ascertained. The BJP is using it as an emotive issue. The State should help the farmers to trade cattle. Else it will badly affect the livestock,” he said.

Congress leader CP Joshi said the BJP government is trying to put an end to animal husbandry. “Farmers were supplementing their income by animal husbandry. Almost all big cattle trade fairs in Rajasthan have stopped. In these fairs, people from outside the States used to come and buy animals. This government has put restrictions on it. No movement of cattle is possible now. There is an attempt to create fear,” Joshi said.

The BJP has been maintaining that it will protect cows and cattle. Party’s state unit president Madanlal Saini told BusinesLine in an interview that Khan was a cattle thief. “The person who was killed in Alwar was involved in a case related to theft of cows. But he should not have been killed. No one has the right to take law into his hands. Our government has taken strict action against those who are involved,” Saini said.