With Rs 1.5 lakh, a farmer can buy three Holstein Friesian crossbred cows, each giving 4,000 litres or more of milk annually. But Rs 1.5 lakh is roughly what Bhupendra Patel has spent on fencing his 10-acre farm at Dhawari village in Jhansi district’s Tahrauli tehsil. The seven-feet-high barbed-wire enclosure is only to prevent “anna pashu” (stray cattle) from entering and eating up the standing rabi pulses crop in his field
“There are about 400 of them in my village alone. I cannot be standing guard all day and even staying awake at night to stop these animals that nobody wants to keep,” complains the 37-year-old who grows chana (chickpea) and masur (lentil).
Farmers like Patel and Pushpendra Singh from the neighbouring village of Barwar have built fences with 4-5 rounds of barbed wire strung on iron angle poles. Fencing a one-hectare (2.47 acres) square plot with four rounds requires around 1,600 metres of barbed wire, in addition to 100 angle rods fixed at a distance of four metres. Taking a weight of 1 kg for six metres of barbed wire and 6 kg per pole, it translates into 267 kg of the former and 600 kg of the latter.
“I have used 700 kg of wire and 1,700 kg of iron angle, which, at Rs 84 per kg and Rs 44 per kg respectively, cost me Rs 1.34 lakh. Besides, I have spent Rs 19,000 on labour, sand, concrete and cement, all of which adds up to Rs 1.53 lakh,” says Patel.
The Bundelkhand region — comprising Jhansi, Lalitpur, Jalaun, Mahoba, Hamirpur, Banda and Chitrakoot in UP and Datia, Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur, Sagar, Damoh and Panna in Madhya Pradesh — has an established tradition of “anna pratha”, wherein farmers let loose their cattle to graze on fields just after rabi harvesting in March-April and till sowing of the next kharif crop in June-July.
However, with the region under the shadow of a drought, Patel says, “The animals you see roaming around aren’t the usual stray cattle that will go back to their owners. These are “lawaris pashu” (abandoned cattle) that end up eating our crop. And their numbers are growing because of the government’s gauraksha (cattle protection) policy.”
Madan Pal, a five-acre farmer from Ladpur village in Kulpahar tehsil of Mahoba, identifies “paani” (water) and “anna pashu” to be the two biggest problems facing Bundelkhand today. “There’s hardly any water for cultivation. Even the crop that is grown has to be protected against cattle. Gauraksha is fine, but who will protect us?” he asks.
According to Patel, the stray cattle problem wasn’t serious till 2-3 years ago. “There were these people from Rajasthan, who would come here and pay Rs 2,000-4,000 for any animal that had stopped giving milk or couldn’t be maintained by their owners. They were probably supplying these to butchers, though it didn’t really concern us. But they no longer come, maybe because transporting cattle is too risky now,” he says.
A byproduct of gauraksha and heightened cattle vigilantism is the increasing recourse to barbed-wire fencing. Farmers who cannot afford iron angle poles have opted for stringing the wires on babool tree branches or sticks. Those having no money to even do that are simply leaving their fields fallow.
A UP agriculture department official admits that stray cattle has emerged as a major issue with political implications, especially in Bundelkhand. “This region predominantly grows pulses, which animals relish. Also, this is a drought-prone belt unlike western and central UP, where you have enough fodder available from sugarcane tops or wheat bhusa (straw). When fodder supply is low — as in the current year that has seen drought-like conditions with the monsoon failing — the cattle have only the standing crop in fields to feed on,” he says.
Rainfall during this southwest monsoon season (June-September) was 43 per cent below the normal average in Jhansi district, 18 per cent in Lalitpur, 55 per cent in Jalaun, 57 per cent in Hamirpur, 46 per cent in Mahoba and 44 per cent in Banda. As a whole, UP has recorded 29 per cent below-normal monsoon rain.