At the world-renowned Pushkar Fair in Rajasthan last year, for every camel that was sold, nearly three went unsold. The situation this year, however, has only worsened, with buyers reportedly quoting prices as low as Rs 1,000 per camel.
“Last year, the situation was abysmal at Pushkar Fair, with camels fetching just Rs 3,000 to 4,000. But this year, the prices have declined further, partly because pastoralists have brought female camels in large numbers as a last resort since male camels were not selling,” said Hanwant Singh, secretary of Lokhit Pashu Palak Sansthan (LPPS), an NGO which works with camel pastoralists.
Traditionally, male camels are sold at the fair while pastoralists keep female camels for breeding. “But this time, as many as 40 per cent of the camels here are females,” Singh claimed.
Under the banner of Singh’s LPPS, camel pastoralists had called a protest on Wednesday. However, officials led by Animal Husbandry Department director Sailesh Sharma reached Puhskar on Wednesday and heard their issues, after which they called off their protest.
Aman, 70, belonging to the Raika community which are traditionally known as camel herders, said, “I brought 30 camels from Pali. However, buyers are quoting Rs 500 to Rs 1,500. This does not cover any of my costs. What’s the point of selling?”
He said he has never seen the situation this bad. “My family has been herding camels for generations. And there was time I used to sell as camel for Rs 50,000, but now we’ve reached the nadir.”
Megharam Dewasi, 55, who brought 50 camels from Ajmer’s Beawar town, has a similar story. “I have not sold any camel yet. People are quoting Rs 2,000 for a camel. Several camel farmers have already gone back, we will leave soon too,” he said.
Of the 6,953 camels brought to Pushkar in 2012, as many as 2,948 were sold. In 2018, this figure shrunk to less than a third – of the 3,954 camels brought to the fair, only 1,051 were sold. However, this in itself was an improvement on the 813 camels sold at the fair in 2017.
Singh said that the numbers of camel sales registered a sharp decline beginning 2014, when the then Vasundhara Raje government declared it a ‘State Animal’ and passed a law next year banning its slaughter, trading and unauthorised transportation.
“Before 2014, we used to get Rs 10,000 to Rs 70,000 for each camel. But after the law was passed, people from outside the state stopped coming to Pushkar Fair,” he said.
Animal Husbandry Department director Sailesh Sharma said, “They face difficulty in selling camels mainly because of prohibition on its export and slaughter. However, they are not seeking repeal of these clauses, but other measures to improve their financial condition, such as dairy plants for camel milk, which again are not entirely viable.”
He said that the department will explore all available options, but passed the buck to other government bodies, claiming that a majority of the revenue earned from the Pushkar Fair is earned by Ajmer Municipal Corporation and Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation, while the Animal Husbandry Department spends lakhs on the fair but barely earns any revenue.
“There should be proportionate contribution by the concerned government bodies,” Sharma said.
Meanwhile, camel numbers in Rajasthan are in decline, especially after its anointment as the State Animal. As per the figures from the 20th Livestock Census for 2019, the number of camels in the state declined from 3.26 lakh to just 2.13 lakh in 2019 – a drop of 34.69 per cent.
This number too is also contested by camel pastoralists ,who claim that there are barely 1.5 lakh camels left in the state.