From 31,299 cattle sold in the 10 cattle fairs held in the state in 2010-11, the number dropped drastically to 2,973 in 2016-17. And a year after 55-year-old dairy farmer Pehlu Khan was beaten to death in Alwar while transporting milch cows to his home in Haryana, only 460 cows have been sold in Rajasthan, an annual drop of over 85 per cent.
Sale of bull calves aged below three is prohibited in Rajasthan, forcing farmers to abandon them when they are as young as six months. This has led to a spike in stray cattle, prompting the government to announce cow shelters for bulls that will, in some measure, get them off fields and farms.
The government already has over 2000 cow shelters on which Rs 193 crore is spent every year by way of grants.
According to the department of cow welfare, there are already over eight lakh cattle in cow shelters across the state and their numbers go up by about two lakh each year. Till they find their way into cow shelters, these stray cattle are a menace for farmers.
In Paota village, 80 kilometres from the state capital Jaipur, Roshan Yadav and her son Amit take turns to guard their farmland. Amit stays up all night while his mother keeps a watch on the fields during the day. "Stray cattle destroy the wheat crop in minutes. They are not deterred by barbed wire fencing," says Ms Yadav.
"Cows and bull calves don't sell as buyers are afraid. They get attacked on highways if they are found transporting cattle," says 55-year-old farmer Behru Lal Yadav.
Villagers in Paota have now started a cow shelter to keep stray cattle off their fields. Farmers like Bheru Lal contribute to feed the 330 cattle at the cow shelter that runs entirely on donations from villagers.
It's not just cow vigilantism that's to blame for the spike in stray cattle, the state government says, defending its decision to start shelters for bulls.
"After mechanisation there are no takers for bulls and oxen, they are left on the roads and trouble farmers. That's why we have set up Nandi gaushalas," says agriculture minister Prabhu Lal Saini.
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