`Open forests for livestock grazing'
You claim to be the country's first cow minister. What is your department doing for the welfare of cows in Rajasthan? We want to develop the 1,450 registered (cow sheds) in the state in such a way that they become self-reliant. We also want to develop indigenous breeds so that people consider it profitable to rear them. But what about small farmers and herds? People will keep cows only if there is potential to earn from them. That is why we want to bring
construction under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
Otaram Dewasi What is the status of other livestock animals? As chairperson of Rajasthan Livestock Board, I had started insurance schemes such as Kamdhenu for cows, Avika Kavach for sheep and so on. We have made hostels for children of shepherds who migrate. The population of camels and sheep has declined greatly. What is the government doing for them? To address this problem, the government just declared camel the state animal and sent a proposal to the Centre to make camel the national animal. It will be a priority for us to stop camel slaughter and we are trying to include camel milk in the Food Security Act. Livestock keepers say there is not enough fodder. What is the solution? Forests should be opened up for grazing. We will send a proposal to the government in this regard. We are developing a fodder which grows in 15 days. states shied away from the fair last year.The demand fell, leading to a crash in prices. “Earlier, we used to get 30,000-`40,000 for every male camel. But this time, camels were sold for just 10,000-`12,000, and the younger ones for as low as 6,000. How will we survive?”asks Gotam,a 55-year-old Raika from Desuri tehsil of Pali district.
While the laws paralyse traditional economic incentives of keepers, a more critical problem threatens the very survival of all livestock.
Shrinking pasture land
In Chhoti Moraval village of Rajsamand district, a thick layer of white marble dust chokes five hectares (ha) of grazing land. Situated in the Aravalli hills, this land was once the ideal pasture for cattle from nearby panchayats. A small natural lake sustained vegetation and provided water. But the land was forcibly acquired by mining companies.The lake slowly dried up, vegetation disappeared and the livestock lost a substantial source of food.
“In revenue records, it is still pasture land,” says Sohan Lal Purohit, a senior government official. “The Supreme Court has strictly prohibited mining on pasture land. But it has been going on unchecked here for eight years.”
Stories of disappearing grazing land persist throughout Rajasthan. The state’s livestock has traditionally relied on gochars (common grazing lands), orans (sacred groves) and forests.Livestock keepers would migrate over small and large distances in search of fallow land and unsown fields.
“Due to rain-fed agriculture, people used to follow an alternate grazing system. They cultivated half their land and left the remaining half fallow for grazing by domestic animals,” says Anil Kumar Chhangani, associate professor, environmental science, Maharaja Ganga Singh University,Bikaner.
But the 1950s and 60s saw a major shift in Rajasthan’s economy. The Indira Gandhi Canal brought water into seven arid and semi-arid north-western districts of the state. The coinciding Green Revolution meant the population leaned further towards agriculture, adopting tube well- and canal-fed irrigation and intensive cropping practices.
A 1978 paper published in Proceedings of Indian National Science Academy by researchers Amal Kumar Sen and K N Gupta of Jodhpur-based Central Arid Zone Research Institute show that fallow land in the arid districts of Ganganagar fell by 25 per cent, in Barmer by 21 per cent, in Churu by 28 per cent and in Bikaner by 10 per cent between 1957-58 and 1963-64. The paper attributed this change to bringing more land under cultivation for the government’s “grow more food”campaign (see ‘Harvesting doom’).
In the past two decades, agriculture has continued to grow exponentially in Rajasthan. A report submitted by the Agro-Economic Research Centre of Gujarat’s Sardar Patel University to the