With four years of drought on the trot, fodder is hard to come by. Cattle are no longer allowed to forage inside forests after incidents of tree-cutting. Things will only get worse now even though govt says it is setting up gaushalas and providing fodder.
Chamarajanagar district’s Kollegal taluk is technically just 142 km from Bengaluru city but the change of scene is so dramatic that you could be in another world. On the parched earth is heartbreaking evidence of a summer that’s turning out to be fatal. Open fields near Kuratti Hosur panchayat, especially the drought-hit Dantehalli, are littered with rotting carcasses of cows that perished due to lack of fodder. Mirror’s team spotted the remains of a goat, five head of cattle and some skeletal remains. A few other animals roamed around looking for food, barely alive in their skeletal and dehydrated state.
Rain has been scanty here and while drinking water is available as of now, fodder for livestock has become a big problem.
“We are going through a very difficult summer. Our animals are dying. At least 50 heads of cattle have died in Dantehalli alone in the last one month. I have lost three cows,” said Balakrishna C (48), a resident of Dantehalli, who opts for seasonal agriculture on his 3 acres and also drives an autorickshaw in the nearby Hanur taluk.
In these villages dotting Male Mahadeshwara and Cauvery wildlife sanctuary limits, cattle owners don’t keep their animals tethered. Cattle freely roam the village and in the morning they move deep into the forests to graze. By late afternoon and evening, the herds come back on their own. According to the farmers, the bovines are dropping dead due to exhaustion and that’s the reason carcasses can be spotted in open fields and inside the forest, where entry is restricted these days by the forest department officials.
“There is no fodder anywhere. Most of us cannot afford to procure dry fodder at high rates from elsewhere and then transport it back to the village. As of now, there is no shortage of drinking water in the village as we have one overhead tank to store water. But the situation will worsen for both humans and animals in the coming months,” said M Basappa, a resident of Dantehalli.
The villagers claim that though summers are always harsh in the region, they used to earlier accompany the cattle and camp inside the forests for a couple of days at a stretch to bring down twigs and branches to feed the animals. But now, they claim, forest department officials have banned them, and their cattle, from entering the forests.
“They say we cut trees and so they can’t let us in. Everything is dried out and as you can see the cows are desperately trying to feed on dried twigs and leaves. We just prune branches with green leaves to feed the cattle. Another problem is that these weak animals also fall prey to wild dogs in the forests,” said Pallai Shetty (60), a resident of Kuratti Hosur panchayat.
Forest officials, however, have denied these allegations, claiming there were no restrictions on cattle entering the forest areas; although, they did admit that they have not been allowing villagers to set up camps inside forests.
“We are not restricting any cattle from entering the forest area for grazing. But, yes, we do not allow villagers to camp inside the forest since its part of a wildlife sanctuary. Moreover, this year, the summer and drought have been severe and the situation is the same inside the forests too,” said Malathi Priya, Deputy Conservator of Forest, MM Hills, Kollegal.
Kuratti Hosur panchayat falls under MM Hills wildlife sanctuary area whereas Dantehalli is in the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary limits. According to Lokesh, a forest watcher from Hanur who is deployed here, there was a huge shortage of water and food for animals inside the forests too. He also claimed that the heat might force some of the animals, such as elephants, to move out more frequently into nearby villages, looking for food and water in the coming months.
AN ACTION PLAN
The state animal husbandry department, along with the revenue department, conducted an inspection of these villages on Thursday and proposed a 30-day action plan to set up gaushalas (cattle shelters) and fodder stations immediately. A district-level committee has also been formed to oversee the arrangements with a senior official as a nodal officer. As per their estimate, no more than 10 cows have died due to acute starvation and heat in the recent months, but they were taking steps to avoid any surge in the death toll in the coming weeks.
“We will be setting temporary gaushalas in Kollegal with feeding trough and fodder supply. Fodder will be provided free of cost here. We have open space and we will be installing circular feeding troughs and these centres will start functioning immediately,” said S Shekhar, Commissioner, Department of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary services, Karnataka.
The immediate plan is to ensure at least four such gaushalas in each taluk. The commissioner also added that 10 fodder banks are being opened where farmers could procure cattle fodder at a subsidised rate of Rs 2 per kg. The proposed temporary gaushalas are expected to accommodate 1,000 cows and each of these animals will be provided around 5 kg of fodder on a daily basis.
“In Dantehalli, cattle are mainly used for agriculture and also to be bred and resold. These are all indigenous inbred varieties that do not yield much milk,” said B Balasundar, Deputy Director, Chamarajanagar district.
According to district collector B Ramu, most of the cattle that died in Dantehalli and nearby areas were old and neglected.
“Our fodder stations provide fodder at Rs 2 per kg which is a very subsidised rate. The government procures it at Rs 10 per kg. But most of these cattle are not fed by the owners, but are let out to graze in the forest. While the drought is persisting, we are also taking all measures to ensure the welfare of the people and their cattle. The situation is not so grim,” he added.
According to district animal husbandry and veterinary services officials, Kollegal taluk has over 1.1 lakh heads of cattle (as per their census which also includes villages in and around Dantehalli and Kuratti Hosur).
As of March 10, Dantehalli and nearby Hanur received just about 2 mm rainfall on March 6 and 7, as per the statistical report available with the Chamarajanagar district agriculture office.
Social organisations such as Dhyan Foundation have deployed volunteers and veterinary doctors in Dantehalli and Kuratti Hosur in an attempt to contain the drought damage. They have also set up free fodder supply points near villages.
Veterinary doctors have been conducting medical check-up of ailing cattle and administering saline solution as and when required. The Union Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change has also been appraised of the situation of allowing cattle to graze in the forests.
The union ministry has written to the state Principal Chief Conservator of Forests regarding the situation as the forests come under the purview of the state government.
It is estimated that there are 1,500 voters in this village, in addition to children. It has a borewell and an overhead water tank from which water is supplied once every alternate day. A majority of the people here have small land holdings in the periphery of the village where they do seasonal agriculture, mainly groundnut and raggi. They also have alternate jobs; such as 35-year-old M Nagaraj, who works in a small grocery store.
There are only a few milch cows in the village. The area is prone to drought as well as intrusion by wild animals, mainly wild boars. The village also lies close to the migratory path of elephants. Most of these fields have specially made platforms on top of trees where farmers keep watch during night against raiding jumbo herds. Villagers also sell cattle, mainly for agriculture, but that business is not going well now.
“Some people quote less than Rs 10,000 for some of these animals, which is extremely low. But there is no option as they do not look healthy. If they are in good health, we could sell them for Rs 30,000 upwards,” Basappa added.
The article was published in Bangalore Mirror.