Among the country’s most well-known livestock fairs, the Pushkar fair held in October-November last year saw sale of just eight govansh, or cattle head. At the Bharatpur fair, held in September-October, six cattle head were sold.
Data compiled by Rajasthan’s Department of Animal Husbandry show an over 90 per cent drop between 2012-13 and 2016-17 in cattle sales at Rajasthan’s nine state-level livestock fairs, with the data for April 2017 to January 2018, for five of the nine fairs — accessed by The Sunday Express — painting an even more alarming picture. The figures for the other four fairs for 2017-18 are yet to be compiled or these are still to be held, including two which see the maximum trade in livestock.
The decline coincides with a crackdown on cow smuggling in Rajasthan, apart from imposition of more stringent rules for cattle transportation and instances of cow vigilantism.
In 2012-13, 54,423 cattle (the official umbrella term in Rajasthan for cow, calf, heifer, bull or bullock) were brought to the nine state-level fairs, of which 37,249 were sold. In 2016-17, this figure had dropped to 10,827 and 2,973 respectively. For this financial year, in five out of nine cattle fairs, only 1,888 cattle were brought, of which only 460 could be sold.
Overall, 1.05 lakh livestock — which include cattle, buffaloes, camels, horses, sheep and goats — were brought to the nine fairs in 2012-13, of which 58,733 were sold. In 2016-17, the corresponding figures were 51,846 and 17,885.
The data also shows that cumulative earnings by cattle owners at fairs, which stood at Rs 92.18 crore in 2012-13, had fallen to Rs 39.42 crore in 2016-17.
The Animal Husbandry Department earns revenue through sales of receipts. It earned Rs 7 lakh in 2012-13, which had gone down to Rs 1.88 lakh in 2016-17.
Director Ajay Kumar Gupta said that “a major reason” for the decline in sales was “(the decline in demand for) bullocks”. Mechanisation was on the rise and “rather than keep a pair of bullocks for an entire year (to till their farm), they (farmers) hire a tractor for a few hours”, he said. “Also the roads are good and every village is connected. Earlier there were kuchcha roads so bullock carts were employed.” Gupta predicted a further drop in sales, saying bullocks have “outlived” their utility.
About the government’s crackdown on cattle smuggling having an effect, the Director said, “Some used to smuggle (cattle) for slaughter but now there is strictness.”
Officials said that another reason for the dwindling number of cattle in cattle fairs was access to artificial insemination, which has led to a decline in the demand for bulls.
Buffalo, in fact, is the only major livestock which has registered a growth. There are no restrictions on buffaloes under the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter & Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995. While 3,521 buffaloes were sold at the nine fairs in 2012-13, 6,108 buffaloes were sold in the last financial year at the fairs. This year, after five fairs, 5,279 buffaloes have already been sold.
Between 2012-13 and 2016-17, horse sales declined from 2,722 to 1,942. In the same period, camel sales declined from 15,188 to 6,541.
Puskhar fair, known as the world’s largest fair for camels, has also seen a decline in camel sales. Of the 6,953 camels brought in 2012-13, 2,948 were sold. In the fair held in October-November 2017, perhaps for the first time, camel sales were under a thousand; of 3,954 camels brought to the fair, only 813 were sold.
As regards govansh, six years ago, 4,270 were brought to the Pushkar fair, of which 2,248 were sold. In November, 161 govansh were brought to the fair and just eight were sold.
At the Bharatpur fair, the figure stood at 6,413 govansh in 2012-13, of which 4,697 were sold. At the latest fair, held in September-October last year, only 325 were brought and six were sold.
In 2014, 2015 and 2017, Bharatpur recorded the second highest number of cases in the state lodged by police under the Rajasthan Bovine Animal Act after Alwar, where dairy farmer Pehlu Khan was lynched by cow vigilantes in April last year.
Three of the nine state-level cattle fairs are held in Nagaur district. The figures for the Veertejaji Pashu Mela in Nagaur’s Parbatsar, held in August 2017, show only 317 govansh were sold compared to 5,671 in 2012-13.
In May 2015, in one of the most important orders regarding cattle fairs, the Rajasthan High Court, acting on a plea by the Gau Raksha Dal Seva Samiti Rajasthan, had issued several directions to the state government regarding cattle fairs. Buyers now have to produce affidavits saying they are “not buying the animal for slaughtering, but for agricultural purposes”, and enclose revenue records of their agricultural holdings to back their claim. A fair contractor is required to produce a certificate from the district collector saying “he is not engaged in slaughter of animals in any manner, nor is he agent of any slaughter house”.
Each animal sold at a fair is required to have a medical certificate and a mark of identification.
The government was asked to ensure that the sale of animals at cattle fairs “in no way reduces the number of bovine animal below the level of actual requirement of the local area”. The government was also told to issue advertisements mentioning details of the maximum number of animals that could be sold or bought at cattle fairs.
To implement these rules, a cell was constituted in the Animal Husbandry Department and directed to submit a report every two months. The matter is routinely heard in the high court.
Said an official of the Animal Husbandry Department, who didn’t want to be named, “Often buyers come from far-off places and have no idea about the affidavits or that they have to produce revenue records. We tried to make arrangements for affidavits on the spot, but how could we arrange for revenue records?… Plus the court rapped on our knuckles whenever it seemed we were not implementing its directives actively.”
Then, in July 2015, a gazette notification by the Union government introduced the Central Motor Vehicles (Eleventh Amendment) Rules, 2015, on vehicles to be used for transportation of cattle, and how many of them could be loaded in a certain vehicle. A regional transport officer has to issue “special licence” for vehicles employed for cattle transportation now, and such vehicles cannot be employed for any other use.
Anger over regulations around cattle trade was one of the key issues when farmers in the Shekhawati region protested last year.