Wardha & Yavatmal, Maharashtra - Kamlabai Gudhe has finally made up her mind to sell the cow a Jersey cow. "Not yet," she says, "when it's pregnant; it'll fetch me a better price then." When her husband Palasram, a four-acre farmer, committed suicide last May, Kamlabai did not expect the government to add to her burden of debt. This cow, she says, "is a huge liability for us. It's eating into our food also."
The dalit family is a beneficiary of the CM's Rs.1075-crore special package for the six suicide-prone districts of Vidarbha. She also got Rs.1 lakh in aid. But as Kamlabai admits candidly: "We had no knowledge of milking a cow. It would have been better had they given us roof." Her hut bears no roof at all.
"It would have been much better had we got money to fence our farm," says Bhaskar, her son. The wild boars and Neelguy have been causing damage to their crop. "We are already tired of that menace," he says, "and now, this cow."
"The officials insisted it's a gift from the government; the cow would add to our income," says an angry Bhaskar. He says he paid Rs.5500 to bring the cow home. The government paid the remaining 75% amount as subsidy.
"They said it will give us more than 10 litres of milk every day, it doesn't give even four," Bhaskar says. The government gave them cow feed worth Rs.2500, but he complains it's of substandard quality, a fact, officials also acknowledge.
Lonsawali village, 25 km from Wardha town, is abuzz with the cow stories. A frail Kamlabai looks bewildered at this new family member on her farm.
After the demise of her husband Palasram in May 2006, Kamlabai took ill with chikungunya. "All of us were down with fever for a month, and we could not feed the cow, so I gave it to my sister to look after it," she says.
"We've to spend minimum Rs.80 to feed it daily. I've to tend to it for the whole day, so I lose my labour wages. Where's the money? How do we feed it when we are going hungry every day?" he wonders.
It's been two months now that the Gudhes are maintaining the cow. Bhaskar says, "if we are unable to sell the cow, I will leave it in the collector's house."
Cut in to Wanjri village of Yavatmal: Six out of 16 cows that came in to this village under the same package have been sold by the beneficiaries.
"It's impossible for us to maintain a buffalo," complains Ashok Manchalwar, a marginal farmer. "I sold it to recover my money," he says reluctantly.
Actually, Ashok passed on his "headache" to another farmer, chuckles Dada Rode, a dairy expert and milk collection agent in Pandharkawda.
"Giving a cow for dairy to a crisis-ridden family is disastrous; you are driving the family to a certain suicide," warns Rode, who has 25 years of experience in milk collection in Yavatmal district. He says the collection of the entire district is a little over 7,000 litres pathetic, to say the least. "People in this region have no skill in dairy; climatic conditions are unfavourable and the people get no cooperation from the animal husbandry department," he says.
The government's door-to-door survey of the 17.64 lakh distress-ridden rural households in the six crisis districts found that nearly 4.5 lakh households are in acute distress, while another 9.15 lakh households are in moderate crisis.
"In such a situation, giving cows is like giving a suicide pill to farmers," feels Rode. He points out the two previous experiences of promoting dairy failed miserably in Vidarbha. One reason for that is lack of feed. "With cotton cash crop eating into the area of food crops like Jowar, we lost the cattle feed."
Compare the statistics with western Maharashtra.
The total milk collection in all 11 districts of Vidarbha does not exceed 50,000 litres a day. That's nothing, say the dairy officials in Nagpur. The 14 districts of western and northern Maharashtra collect between 60 lakh and 1 crore litres of milk every day throughout the year. The estimated economy of milk and milk products in those districts is pegged at close to Rs 10,000 crore annually.
Says Sudhir Kumar Goyal: "We have given three options to the beneficiaries." Hybrid cows, buffaloes and desi cows. "We are looking at it through groups, mostly the self-help-groups," says the divisional commissioner.
But Goyal admits to the failure of the programme, a reason why the scheme is on the hold for now. So far, about 3000 milch cows have been distributed from the CM's package. "We've to distribute 10,000 in the current fiscal," he quips.
Add to that the PM package provision for a thousand cows in each of the six districts a year, and for the next three years. That's 18,000 cows.
"Dairy won't work in this region, we'd said it when the packages were announced," points out Vijay Jawandhia, a farmers' leader.
"Give a cow and a buffalo to those benefiting from the sixth pay commission, they'll understand our problem," demands Ravindra Gaurkar sarcastically. In Wanjri, he's another harangued beneficiary about to sell the princely prize.