EARLY MORNING at the Osmanabad cattle market. A young man waits to sell his pair of rugged-looking bullocks. Within minutes a customer arrives and the bargaining begins. The seller refuses to budge from his price. â€śBecause of the drought, Iâ€™ll have to sell my bulls at an awfully low price,â€ť says Bhau Ganpat Chauhan, the seller, â€śBut I wonâ€™t sell them for the pittance that man was offering.â€ť
Chauhanâ€™s 15-acre farm has yielded nothing this season. He needs the money so that his nine-member family and their remaining livestock can survive. The customer, Chauhan says, is actually a middleman who buys livestock in bulk and sells them to rich farmers and to abattoirs in Mumbai and Hyderabad. The bargaining continues intermittently for half an hour with a confident Chauhan sticking to his price. â€śThe bullocks are worth much more than their price. They could have earned me Rs 700 a day during the farming season.â€ť
After much haggling and a discount, a deal is struck. As soon as Chauhan gets his initial advance, he turns around and smacks the bullocks hard. â€śItâ€™s a tradition,â€ť he says, â€śto show that one has broken all emotional ties with the animal.â€ť
Chauhan says it costs approximately Rs 130 per day to feed a bullock. He cannot afford to spend that amount, nor can he send the bullocks to any fodder camp because there are none near his house. After buying the familyâ€™s rations, there would be little left from the cash he got by selling the bullocks, and he is worried how to survive the next few months.
Cattle bought by middlemen often end up in illegal abattoirs that have mushroomed across Maharashtra. TEHELKA accompanied a team of animal welfare officers and the local police that carried out a raid on one such illegal establishment in Solapur district. During the raid, 25 animals, including two bullocks and a cow, were seized. All of them were found to be healthy, though animal protection laws in Maharashtra do not permit the slaughter of any healthy animal, especially cows and bullocks. A veterinary doctor is required to certify if an animal can be slaughtered, but the abattoirâ€™s owner had not bothered about this requirement.
Remains of a large number of slaughtered animals were strewn all over the abattoir premises. It was obviously doing good business. Carcasses of about 30 animals killed that morning were also found ready for transportation. The person running the abattoir alleged he had been singled out even though there are several illegal slaughterhouses across the district.
Vilas Shah, an animal welfare officer since the 1960s, claims the number of animals sent to abattoirs has doubled over the past one year. TEHELKA found that the number of animals sold legally has increased by 43 percent in Jalna district. The sale of goats at the Osmanabad cattle market too has doubled in the past two years, while the sale of bullocks has increased by nearly 25 percent.
While more and more livestock are being sold in distress, the farmers are worried about the next monsoon. Without enough draught animals to plough the fields, they would have to hire tractors at exorbitant rates. â€śWe will either have to buy a new pair of bullocks at a higher price, or hire a tractor for 500 per hour. There is no other way to survive,â€ť says Chauhan.