It’s late morning in Kawant town of Chhota Udepur district. Amidst stalls selling vegetables, spices, clothes, pet birds and eggs, a visible trail of the cattle hooves and carts upon the dusty road leads to the APMC market yard of the taluka. Under the shade of the trees in the compound, Rajla Soma, a farmer from Bhumaswada village in Kawant taluka, has put up his bull for sale. Until December, the animal would have fetched about Rs 25,000 through the legal sale sealed with two receipts from the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC), issued to the buyer and seller. These receipts are a crucial piece of evidence of legal purchase to pass through police check points at various places across the state. However, ever since the APMC has discontinued the weekly animal haats, Rajla and hundreds of other farmers are relying solely on their luck.
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Like Rajla, several farmers have fastened their cattle — cows and bulls — in the yard. A few meters away, across the road, another set of anxious farmers is awaiting buyers for their healthy, well-fed goats. It appears like a regular day of the weekly village haat. But the APMC’s decision to pull out of the sale has left cattle owners and buyers in a predicament. Rajla says, “The APMC ticket to prove sale and purchase is essential for the buyer to safely take home the animal. If he does not have the receipt to show at a check post, the animal can be confiscated and he can be booked for smuggling of the animal. This has deterred many buyers from coming to haats for the last five weeks and adversely affected our livelihood.” He adds that he has been trying to sell off his bull since early January to pay off a debt of Rs 15,000. “First the demonetisation struck us badly as we were left without cash, and then the APMC decided to stop issuing the sale receipts,” Rajla says.
As per a circular of the Director, Agriculture Marketing and Rural Finance (DoAMRF), dated October 15, 2016, all APMC markets in the state were directed to discontinue animal haats with immediate effect. The responsibility of any operational animal haat would solely lie with the chairmen of the APMC markets, according to the circular. The circular states, “Several APMCs in the state are facilitating the sale and purchase of animals. As per the petition of the Ahimsa Mahasangh Gujarat of July 27, 2016, Kathlal, Thasra, Kawant, Dakor and Goghambha APMCs are facilitating the illegal sale and purchase of animals. In several cases, police cases have also been registered. According to Mahasangh, the intention with which these animals are traded in these animal haats is for slaughter. They have petitioned that such markets be closed down. Therefore, all APMC markets in the state are hereby directed, that the government of Gujarat has abolished the state regulation on sale of animal and animal products (as per the Gujarat Agriculture produce market committee Act, 1963) and the onus of ensuring that such sale is not illegal lies on the APMC markets. If such illegal sale and trade of animals is found, the responsibility of the same will lie with the chairmen, secretary and officer-bearers of the said APMC.”
As the APMCs began implementing the circular, several of the the 182 tribal haats running across 11 tribal districts of the state were shut, seeing a visible decline in the animal trading. While the Tribal Development Department of Gujarat enlists 182 tribal haats, DoAMRF enlists 129 tribal haats in the tribal areas of Valsad, Navsari, Surat, Panchmahals, Sabarkantha, Bharuch, Narmada, Banaskantha, Vadodara, Chhota Udepur, Dang and Dahod districts.
The tribal farmers, however, say they have no other option but to arrive with their animals each week and wait in hope of buyers, with or without tickets. Fortunately, the Kawant APMC has not yet driven them out of the premises. Ramesh Nayakda from Rordha village in the taluka has put up a pair of buffaloes for sale. However, buyers seem hard to come by. “On a regular day at the haat, my buffaloes would have sold for Rs 30,000 each, but the number of buyers coming to the haat have dipped. Most of the buyers are put off by the fact that the APMC has pulled out of the process. But we have no other option but to come here and wait. Some buyers are still making the purchases, but our negotiation power has gone down as without the APMC receipts, these sales are technically illegal.”
Sheikh Mustafa Haji Abdul Rahim, who was a member of the Kawant APMC from 1980 to 2005, says that the lockdown of animal haats is politically motivated. “The CM gave in to the petition by the animal rights group. During her tenure as the CM, Anandiben Patel had, in fact, announced that the haats would be constructed with facilities to make the weekly markets more organised. She had even sanctioned funds of Rs 2 crore for the same. In many areas of the state where the Congress party’s panel runs the APMCs, the animal haats are still continuing regularly. In places where the markets have been shut, the farmers are in distress. The sale of animals helps many farmers pay off their debt and earn some money they desperately seek due to bad crop. Now, that option has been taken away from them. This is a politically motivated step from the ruling party to appease a section of the society.” However, this reporter found that the animal sale was not being done even in haats in APMCs under Congress.
Pankaj Buch of Ahimsa Mahasangh, which made a representation to the government of Gujarat and the DoAMRF, seeking a closure on the haats, says the organisation works for the protection of animals. Buch says the organisation made a fresh representation on January 24, seeking enforcement of the October 2016 circular. The January representation urged the DoAMRF to shut down animal haats that are still running. The representation says, “The circular issued to shut the animal haats where the illegal trade of cattle is taking place has not been enforced yet. It is observed that the haats continue to run. It should be shut immediately.”
Buch said, “We have been making representation to the government and the DoAMRF to ban the animal haats because many a times, we have found cases where the cattle is taken to the slaughter houses after being sold at these markets. The law itself does not have provision for such haats to be regulated by the government. So, it is in the best interest of animals that these haats should be discontinued.”
According to the official website of Tribal Development Department of Gujarat, the government had plans to provide concrete structures to the weekly haats between 2014 and 2016. The website states, “Local produces like agriculture produces, vegetables, spices, minor forest produce, wild fruits, honey, clothes, pet birds, eggs, animals, fishes etc. are sold at a reasonable rate, which are comparatively lower than the other markets. Due to the poor economic condition, the tribal people are unable to afford permanent structures like shops, shades, shelters. Therefore, they are forced to set up stalls in the open. The Government of Gujarat has planned to develop some traditional haats as haat bazars with all modern facilities like platform, shade, parking, toilet facilities, electricity, drinking water facility, security, etc. This would encourage local people to purchase items from these haat bazars and will accommodate more tribal people to sell their produces and thereby improve local economy.” The website states, “In the first phase, 12 (twelve) such Haat Bazars may be created, one in each tribal district. Each Haat Bazar will cost approximately Rs 2.00 crore. During the year 2014-15, two such Haat Bazars were approved on pilot basis and will be located in Tapi and Surat districts. The construction of the modern facility is under process. Further, ten more such Haat Bazars will be undertaken in 2015-16.” An official of the Tribal Development Department said that the plan was “put on hold” since 2016.
BJP leader Atul Patel, chairman of Chhota Udepur district APMC, said that the committee was helpless because of the circular. “We are simply adhering to the circular as we cannot take the blame for an illegal deal through the APMC markets. The circular has been effected across the state, so we do not have any other choice but to implement it in Chhota Udepur too.”
Animal haats in non-tribal districts such as Anand and Kheda, too, shut down recently. Rajendra Patel, secretary of APMC in Dakor, which has sub-yards of Thasra and Kathlal under it, says that the animal trading has been discontinued following the circular. Patel said, “We have effected the circular and discontinued haats. We do not allow the farmers to come and display their animals here since the haat has been closed. If the onus of an illegal trade lies on the chairperson, secretary and other members, why would we take this risk.” Dakor APMC has a Congress party panel. Farther away in Dahod, however, the animal haats in four sub yards of Dahod, Kharedi, Himala and Katwara are still functioning. The APMC in Dahod has a BJP chairman, but the members of both parties are in equal number. Chairman Kanhaiyalal Kishori said that the APMC is “in the process” of effecting the circular. Kishori said, “The cattle haat takes place on Wednesday in Dahod, Monday in Kharedi, Thursday in Himala and on Friday in Katwara. We are effecting the circular slowly as it is not right to withdraw the right of the farmers to sell their animals, all of a sudden. We are issuing entry tickets into the APMC ground here.” Kishori said that the petition of the Ahmisa Mahasangh is not without a case. “It is true that there are many cases in which animals are traded for slaughter. The traders lure the gullible farmers into selling their cows and buffaloes for cheaper prices and later take them away for slaughter as the meat is expensive. So, this circular has merit,” he says.
In other parts of Dahod district – Limkheda, Devgadhbaria, Jhalod, Garbada and Fatehpura – animal markets are yet to be discontinued. Traders say that if the animal haats are closed down for the long run, it will result in heavy losses to the farmers as well as the buyers. Ghulam Ahmed, a goat trader in Kawant, says, “The reason for having the weekly village animal markets was that it gives the farmers a chance to sell their animals and also benefits the traders in turn as the animals are cheaper than in private markets. If the haats are indeed discontinued for the long run, then traders will be forced to buy the animals from private markets in Vadodara and Surat, and in Ranip in Ahmedabad, which is the biggest animal market with licensed traders.”
While farmers and traders are blaming the ruling party for taking away their livelihood, BJP state party president Jitu Vaghani, who concluded the 12-day Adivasi Vikas Gaurav Yatra in January, feels that the government has taken the right step. He said, “Throughout my tour in the tribal areas, not a single person petitioned me about the closure of weekly animal haats. I do not think they have a problem with it. Moreover, Gujarat is a state of animal-loving people and we are all considerate towards animals.”