Farmers clashed with security guards of Sardarkrushinagar Dantiwada Agricultural University (SDAU) in Banaskantha district and sat on dharna after the university cancelled a livestock auction at the last-minute Tuesday on the orders of the state government.
A large number of farmers assembled outside the Livestock Research Station (LRS) of SDAU on Tuesday to participate in an advertised auction of 82 livestock heads, including Kankrej breed of cattle and Mehsana breed of buffaloes, raised by the LRS for research. However, when the guards stopped them from entering the campus and informed the auction had been cancelled, it led to a scuffle between dairy farmers and the gatekeepers.
Later in the day, the farmers sat on a flash dharna to protest against the abrupt cancellation of the auction without notice. Farmers alleged that representatives of panjrapoles (cattle shelters run by charitable organisations) were allowed to enter the LRS but farmers, who were carrying certificates to prove they were bona fide farmers, were stopped.
The state government had cancelled the auction while referring to a 2018 directive banning its organisations from selling animals and birds that had outlived its research value and instead send them to the panjrapoles.
An LRS official told The Indian Express that the SDAU had issued the advertisements for auction based on 2019 state government circular that allowed livestock heads of value, which had been used for research, to be sold to dairy farmers.
“This is not good on the part of the university and the government. Farmers had come to Dantiwada from faraway places hoping to purchase a Kankrej cow or a Mehsana buffalo, but when they reached the university, they were told that the auction had been called off. Farmers lost their time and money in travelling,” Meghraj Chaudhary, secretary of Banaskantha district unit of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), said. The farmers, he said, dispersed after university officials persuaded them and convinced them that the auction was cancelled on the orders of the state government.
On December 17, SDAU had issued newspaper advertisements announcing the auction of 53 cattle heads of Kankreji breed, including 17 heifers and 17 buffaloes for December 29. However, the university said it had to cancel the auction following orders from the state government. “We received orders from the state government last evening (Monday) directing us to cancel the auction of the livestock heads and instead send them to panjrapoles. This left us with very little time to reach out to farmers and inform them about the cancellation of Tuesday’s auction. While we did call the farmers who were in touch with us, it was not possible to reach out to everyone. Therefore, many farmers turned up at the campus on Tuesday,” an SDAU official told The Indian Express.
Falguni Thakar, state Director of Animal Husbandry, declined to comment on the incident. “This is all government procedure that we have to follow,” she said, adding she would not like to comment further.
Dantiwada police sub-inspector Ajay Chaudhari, however, said there was no violence. “After the university officials explained to them the reason for the cancellation of the auction, the farmers dispersed.”
After protests by groups advocating compassion towards animals and birds, the state government had in 2018 instructed all government-run animal and poultry farms to not auction livestock heads after their utility as research subject was over but to send them to panjrapoles.
These animal rights activists had objected to the Junagadh Agricultural University (JAU) auctioning off experimental poultry — 227 commercial broilers — in May 2018. In August that year, the Anand Agricultural University (AAU) was forced by the animal rights activists to suspend the sale of experimental goats coinciding with the festival of Bakri-Id festival.
“However, in 2019, the government issued another circular stating that experimental livestock heads of value to dairy farmers can be sold to farmers. On the basis of that resolution, we advertised the auction of 82 livestock heads, including milch cows and buffaloes, heifers, pregnant heifers, dry animals etc. As Kankrej breed of cattle and Mehsana breed of buffaloes are becoming popular, lots of farmers had turned up. The number of farmers who turned up on Tuesday was bigger also because of the fact that we had announced an auction for the first time since 2017,” Dr Harshad Panchotiya, a scientist at LRS said.
Dr Panchotiya added LRS needs to replace around 30 per cent heads of its herds of cows and buffaloes to keep the process of breed improvement going on. “Progeny testing takes average six years in case of Kankreji breed of cattle and the experimental animals which do not meet research criteria have to be disposed of else our research station may become a panjrapoles,” the research scientist said.
“Thanks to our research in selective breeding, today, we have been able to establish Kankrej breed as a milch breed. When the LRS was set up in 1978, the average milk production of our herd Kankrej cows over one lactation period was 900 litres and the breed was mainly known as draft animals. However, today, the herd average is 2,800 litres which is even better than traditional milch breeds like Gir. This is the reason, many farmers are looking for pure Kankrej breed cows,” Dr Panchotiya added.
Kankrej cows, he said, are very hardy animals whose milk production remains stable even during extreme weather conditions. The scientist further said Kankrej heifers usually attract bids up to Rs 25,000 while milking cows get bids up to Rs 40,000. Buffaloes get sold between Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000.
Currently, the LRS has a total of 460 cattle heads and 240 buffaloes with average maintenance cost is Rs 200 per head. “Every year, our herd of cows deliver around 100 calves and the buffalo herd around 50 calves. All of them may not be required for research purposes. So, we sell them to farmers with an aim to propagate the breed,” Panchotiya said. Kankrej breed accounts for the largest share in livestock population in the country.
To ensure that the experimental animals auctioned by the university do not end up in slaughterhouses, SDAU had made it mandatory for farmers to bring certificates of being bona fide farmers from their respective village panchayats.