In arid Kutch, hundreds of cattle camps spring up ahead of summer

In arid Kutch, hundreds of cattle camps spring up ahead of summer

Totalling to around 19 lakh heads, Kutch has the largest population of cattle, buffaloes and small ruminants like goats and sheep in the state.

A group of maldharis from Kutch at Sardhar village on Rajkot-Bhavnagar highway on their way to Amreli. Gopal Kateshiya

While the summer is still some time away, NGOs have already set up 172 cattle camps, locally called dhorwadas, in the drought-hit Kutch district to take care of more than one lakh cattle. Meanwhile, the state government has started paying assistance to 119 gaushalas and panjarapols, sheltering another one lakh cattle in the district.

According to the district administration, these cattle camps are together housing 1,08,442 heads of cattle. Similarly, 119 guashalas and panjarapols in the arid district, which is going through one of the worst droughts in recent years, are giving shelter to 1,04,215 cattle heads.

“We are estimating that the number of cattle camps in the district will go up to 250 by middle of the summer this year,” said Niyaz Pathan, Deputy Collector of Kutch, who is looking after the scarcity-relief measures in the district that witnessed scanty rainfall last monsoon.

The state government has declared scarcity-hit all the 10 talukas of the district, which received less than 25 per cent of their average rainfall last monsoon. The district with an average rainfall of 417 mm, has this year received average 111 mm rain only or merely 26.51 per cent rainfall, leading to a severe scarcity of water and fodder.


The worst-affected taluka is Lakhpat that received 12 mm of rainfall. Other talukas also received very little rainfall — Rapar (26 mm), Abdasa (53 mm), Nakhtrana (70 mm), Bhuj (83 mm) and Bhachau (103 mm). Barring Gandhidham (65.54%) and Anjar (53.28 per cent), the other eight talukas have received 30 per cent or less rainfall.

Totalling to around 19 lakh heads, Kutch has the largest population of cattle, buffaloes and small ruminants like goats and sheep in the state. Availability of grazing land and development of cooperative dairy sector supports this large cattle population. According to the 2012 livestock census, Kutch has cattle population of 5.83 lakh and buffalo population of 3.74 lakh. The district, which is known for Banni breed of buffaloes, also has more than nine lakh sheep and goats and cattle-breeding is a major occupation of people in this arid district.

Parts of Rapar and Bhachau talukas in eastern Kutch receives irrigation water through Kutch branch canal of Narmada project, and is therefore comparatively better placed. However, the rest eight talukas are dependent on rain and groundwater for growing grass and fodder.

The western part of the district is worst affected. Of the 172 cattle camps (temporary enclosures where cattle and buffaloes are housed) in the district, 160 are in the six talukas of western Kutch. In fact, 73 cattle camps have been set up in Bhuj taluka alone.

Abdasa and Lakhpat have 34 each while Nakhtrana has 14. Mundra and Mandavi have three and two cattle camps, respectively.

In the four talukas of eastern Kutch, 11 cattle camps have been set up in Anjar taluka, and one in Bhachau. These camps are together sheltering 1,08,442 bovines and buffaloes. However, no cattle camp has been set up for scarcity relief in Rapar and Gandhidham talukas.

“It has rained very little in Banni grassland area in Bhuj taluka that supports a huge population of cattle and buffaloes. Not much grass, therefore, is available in this region. Hence majority of cattle camps have come up in Banni,” says Pathan, the officer looking after drought relief operations.

These cattle camps have to arrange for fodder and water for animals they are sheltering. The district administration is helping them to make provision of water wherever required, officers said.

Similarly, a majority of the 119 gaushalas and panjarapols (permanent shelters for cattle and buffaloes run by NGOs and religious bodies) are also located in talukas of western Kutch. The six talukas of that are part of the district account for 86 such permanent camps. Bhuj tops the list with 33, followed by Mandvi (13), Mundra (13), Abdasa (8), Nakhtrana (2) and Lakhpat (2).

On the other hand, Anjar, Gandhidham, Bhachau and Rapar have 23, 2, 14 and 12 gaushalals and panjarapols, respectively. They are together sheltering 1,04, 215 cattle and buffaloes, officers said.

According to officials, these guashalas and panjarapols are sourcing fodder from as far away as Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh.

The state government had started relief measures in mid-September by opening grass depots to distribute fodder at concessional rates, and had announced Rs 25 maintenance grant per cattle-head per day for cattle camps, gaushalas and panjarapols in the district.

Officers said that Rs 20.10 crore worth of assistance has already been disbursed among the 119 gaushalas and panjarapols and that payment to cattle camps has also started.

“With an aim to check malpractices, the government has mandated this year that a cattle camp will be monitored and frequently inspected for two weeks following registration with the district administration, and its application for maintenance grant will be entertained only after this moratorium of two weeks. A majority of the camps were set up after mid-December and therefore not many applications have been received for grants. Some which have been received are being processed,” Pathan added.

The deputy collector added that Banni Sarvodaya Vikas Trust, an NGO which has set up a cattle camp in Gadhiyado in Banni area, is the only cattle camp organiser which has been paid state assistance, so far. The government has provided it Rs 2.38 lakh towards maintenance grant for cattle and buffaloes it houses.

Besides supporting cattle camps and guashalas, the government has also opened 225 grass depots in the district for distributing grass among cattle herders at concessional rates. “We have already distributed 4.57 kg of grass among cattle-herders from these depots at a concessional rate of Rs 2 per kg. We have received sufficient stock of grass through train and trucks from Valsad and the distribution will continue in coming months,” added Pathan.
Maldharis (cattle-herders) who have not sent their cattle and buffaloes to cattle camps or guashalas are eligible to get 28 kg grass for each of his cattle per week at concessional rates with an upper limit of five cattle heads per cattle-herder.


But officers conceded that 11 cattle have died so far due to “malnourishment”.