Business has fallen by three-fourths at the Vaniamkulam livestock market in Kerala’s Palakkad district since the Centre’s notification restricting the sale of cattle for slaughter, says the contractor who runs the market.
The weekly market, said to have started seven centuries ago and spanning five-and-a-half acres, is among three major hubs of the cattle trade in Kerala — Kuzhalmannam in Palakkad district and Perumbilavu in Thrissur being the others — and the lifeline of smaller such markets in the state.
N Chandran, who has the contract to run the Vaniamkulam market, says trade of animals, which had peaked at Rs 1.25 crore in the weeks preceding the notification — issued by the environment ministry on May 23 — had reduced to Rs 30 lakh by last Thursday, June 8.
Thursday, incidentally, was the day when the Kerala assembly passed a resolution asking the Centre to withdraw its notification. The resolution, moved by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at a special assembly session, brought the ruling Left Democratic Front together with the opposition United Democratic Front, with only BJP legislator O Rajagopal opposing it.
“The impact of the notification is that traders are afraid to bring cattle from other states,” says Chandran, the contractor at the Vaniamkulam market. “Normally, 4,000 animals would be traded and we would get 85 to 90 truckloads. Last Thursday we got only 32 truckloads of cattle and only 1,000-odd animals were sold. The week before that, it was less than 20. It is a matter of concern that even during the month of Ramzan, the market could get only 32 truckloads.”
The centuries-old market was traditionally run by the Kavalappara Moopil Nairs, prominent landlords of the region, before being taken over by the Vaniamkulam village panchayat in 1988. Since then, the panchayat has been auctioning the market to bidders every year.
Chandran, who won the contract this year, points to the auction rates to underline that the market was growing before the notification.
Last year, the winning bid was Rs 32 lakh; this year, Chandran had to pay Rs 38.80 lakh for the rights to run the market. “The price of cattle too has gone up for want of enough supply,’’ says Chandran.
Animal Husbandry Minister P Raju says the flow of cattle to Kerala has reduced drastically since the notification. “The week before the notification, 23,800 heads of cattle had been brought to Kerala, which came down to a mere 1,000 in the first week after the notification,” he says.
At Vaniamkulam, the business includes various stakeholders from traders, farmers and brokers and even “cattle beauticians” who who shape the horns of bulls and bullocks. About 40,000 people are directly or indirectly dependent on the market, says P Yousaf, Cattle Merchants Association general secretary. “There are middlemen, sellers of cane and rope, truck owners and their drivers all connected to the market. We can’t accept the restrictions brought on cattle markets as such a move would trigger a crisis in many allied areas,’’ says Yousaf.
Much of the cattle brought here, which include bulls, bullocks, cows, buffaloes and calves, makes its way from the neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and even Odisha. “We need not go to the markets in other states as the local agents there source the animals for traders in Kerala,” says P Moithunni, a cattle trader for the last 40 years. His last truckload was from Andhra Pradesh, for which he has paid Rs 2.38 lakh for transportation. “Of the transportation cost, Rs 90, 000 is for the truck fare. The rest of the amount is spent on labour, tax at check posts, fodder charge and bribe for police and transport departments in three or four states,’’ he says.
Moithunni’s truckload of cattle is worth Rs 10 lakh. “We traders do not wait for huge profits. We may take a profit of about Rs 2,000 per animal. If we kept the cattle for several days, we would incur a loss as a large sum would have to be spent towards maintaining the animals,” he says.
The cattle is sold to traders who take them to 40-odd local markets in various parts of the state.
“If a bunch of cattle is not sold in one of the markets, the trader would take them to the next market. By one round of trade in these three markets, that week’s consignment from other states would be over. Most traders have covered trucks and dedicated workers at their disposal for ferrying the cattle to Kerala and then from one market to another,” says Muhammed C, who has been in the cattle trade for last 30 years.
Apart from traders from other states, there are local middlemen and farmers who bring cattle to Vaniamkulam. One such farmer is C Prabhakaran, who rears bulls on his agricultural land at Chalavar in Palakkad. He says dairy farmers would be worst affected by the recent notification. “If a farmer is not allowed to sell the unproductive animals for slaughter, no one would continue in this sector. For both traders and farmers, there should be a place to exchange cattle,’’ he says.
Another major fallout of the notification has been on the sale of bulls. The bulls have a steady demand in Kerala, where Muslims prefer the animal for the ritual sacrifice during Eid or other auspicious occasion in their families.
Traders say they bring the bull calves from other states mainly to cater to this demand and price them between Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000.
The bulls reared for sacrifice are also sold at a premium price. “A farmer who buys a bull calf for Rs 10,000 can dispose it for Rs 35,000 next year during the Eid festival. Now, bulls or bullocks are not used for agricultural purpose. Instead, rearing a bull for sacrificial purpose or for an auspicious occasion in Muslim family, gives a great market potential for farmers,’’ says Moithunni, adding that prices of these bulls are likely to higher this year due to the sale restriction.