Lok Sabha elections 2019: Maharashtra cattle camps goad villagers towards parties
In parched Marathwada, the state government’s cattle camps, set up to protect livestock against water and fodder scarcity, have become the centre of political activities.
According to activists, most of the camps are allotted to cooperative institutions headed by workers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The state gives Rs 90 for a big animal a day and Rs 45 for a small animal to the institutions running the camps. Activists claim political connections help in getting the proposal cleared easily. Villagers keep their cattle at these camps, as they find it difficult to maintain them back home, and often stay back to look after them, giving the parties a chance to influence them. “The decision on whom to vote for is taken a day ahead of the voting collectively by villagers at the cattle camps,” said Sumant Kasare, a farmer from Pandhari village in Aashti, who has kept his seven animals at a camp in his village.
“There is no doubt that cattle camps provide a great respite to farmers and their cattle. But they have become a way to garner political mileage ahead of the Lok Sabha elections and an opportunity to grab government money. Institutions operating the camps are headed by political party workers. In three months of scarcity, they make around Rs 4-5 crore. The number of animals in the camps is often inflated and fodder, water and medicines provided are less than required,” said Ashok Tangade of Jagar Pratisthan.
Of the 557 camps operational across the state, 532 are in Beed, a politically sensitive district. Farmers in Jalna and Latur alleged that the cattle camps were not allotted to their districts, despite the dire need.
“Beed gets the maximum number of camps as it is a politically sensitive and powerful district. When other districts are struggling to get them sanctioned, Beed has become the hub of cattle camps. It has 532 operational cattle camps, of the 872 sanctioned in the past four weeks. Ironically, 268 of the sanctioned camps have been shut down over irregularities,” said an official from the district collectorate of Beed.
In Pargaon village in Aashti tehsil in Beed, a cattle camp of 900 animals is run by Jogeshwari Dudh Sahakari Sanstha headed by Tatyasaheb Kadam, the village sarpanch, who belongs to the BJP. Another camp in the same village is operated by an institution patronised by another BJP MLA. Two adjoining villages have camps operated by NCP leaders Balasaheb Masbe and Satish Shinde.
Beed district collector Astik Kumar Pandey said, “The cattle camps are allotted to the institutions that comply with the norms. We have more number of camps because of the high rate of allied agriculture activity — animal husbandry. I can’t say anything about the political affiliation of the institutions, but action will be initiated if we come across any violation of code of conduct.”
The state government’s decision of giving the power of allotment of cattle camps to the guardian minister instead of the district collector, too, had led to a litigation, after which the decision was struck down.