The southwest monsoon season is over, but Kakaso Gaikwad’s “chara chavani” (fodder camp) still has 540 animals. At its peak — from late-April till almost the end of September — there were over 700 cows and 200 calves housed in his fodder camp at Shirashi. This village in Mangalwedha taluka of Solapur district had two more such camps, with up to 700 animals each, which shut shop after September 30.
“Our village has some 2,000 people and 3,000 animals (including buffaloes). Most of these were at the three camps. Mine will run till the end of this month,” says Gaikwad, a former sarpanch of Shirashi who is also an NCP worker. The other two chavani organisers, Ashok More and Shivaji Autade, are with the BJP.
Bharat Salunkhe has kept all his 20 cows and calves at Gaikwad’s camp. “My animals (mostly Holstein crossbreds) are now giving 7-8 litres of milk each daily, as against their normal 18-20 litres. But they are at least surviving here. I could not have afforded to feed them at home,” points out this farmer, who cultivates jowar (sorghum), bajra (pearl-millet), tur (pigeon-pea) and green fodder on his four acres of rainfed land.
The three chara chavanis in Shirashi are among the 1,646 in Maharashtra that, at their peak in June (just before the monsoon’s arrival), officially sheltered 11.16 lakh animals: 9.92 lakh large and 1.24 lakh small. While the camps have made a difference between life and death for the cattle — and their owners — over an extended drought period from last October to this July, the impact on the coming state assembly elections remains to be seen.
The Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP-Shiv Sena government has already cleared payments worth Rs 850 crore to the chavanis since January, with the final bill likely to cross Rs 1,000 crore. On January 9, when the government resolution for starting them was issued, the organisers were entitled to a reimbursement of Rs 70 per day for each adult animal and Rs 35 in the case of calves. These rates were revised upwards, first to Rs 90 for an adult animal and Rs 45 for a calf in April and then to Rs 100 for an adult animal and Rs 50 for a calf in May.
Out of the 1,646 fodder camps, the maximum were opened in Beed (549, with 3.49 lakh animals), Ahmednagar (507 and 3.34 lakh), Solapur (248 and 1.75 lakh) and Osmanabad (92 and 0.85 lakh) districts. While the camps were technically closed down after September 30, some in Solapur, like Gaikwad’s, are still functioning.
The stipulated daily ration for large animals in the chavanis is 15 kg of green fodder, 6 kg of dry fodder and 0.5 kg of feed concentrates, with small animals to be given half of these quantities. Most organisers, however, are alleged to have been feeding whole sugarcane along with some concentrates and dried jowar or maize stalks.
“There was very little green fodder available in the first place till end-July. The chavani operators found it more convenient to source whole cane from the fields. The growers did not mind, as they were being paid Rs 3,000-4,000 per tonne in cash, which was more than the Rs 2,900-3,000 rate (inclusive of harvesting and transport charges) that sugar mills would have given with delays. But feeding whole cane (instead of its green tops) would affect milk yields and calvings down the line,” warns a private dairy company owner with procurement operations in Solapur.
Many chavani organisers are bulk milk vendors supplying to large dairies. Gaikwad sells roughly 1,000 litres daily to the Solapur District Cooperative Milk Producers Union’s chilling centre at Mangalwedha. Ananda Godse, who ran a 1,000-animal camp at Medshingi village of Solarpur’s Sangola taluka from April 27 to September 30, supplies about 5,000 litres daily to the Kolhapur District Cooperative Milk Producers Union and private dairies such as Prabhat and Sonai.
Gaikwad is now paying farmers who have kept their animals in his camp around Rs 28 for a litre of cow milk containing 3.5 per cent fat and 8.5 per cent solids-not-fat. This milk he is supplying to the Solapur union at Rs 30.5 per litre, after adding transport and commission charges of Rs 2.5. The incentive for bulk vendors to run chavanis comes from being able to assemble cattle that can be milked at one place. Farmers also gain as they don’t have to arrange for water tankers or fodder. While the quantity and quality of feed may be poor, if not deleterious to productivity and reproductive health in the long run, the animals not dying of starvation is itself some consolation.
But the camp organisers aren’t happy. Gaikwad claims that he has hasn’t been paid for maintaining the animals in his camp since July. A top official at Maharashtra’s department of relief and rehabilitation admits to a delay in clearance of bills. “The reason for it is reports of fraudulent claims because of which we are subjecting all bills to detailed scrutiny,” he adds.