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Telangana shows the way in reviving rural economy

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Hyderabad: In 1934, Mahatma Gandhi resigned from the Indian National Congress following differences with other leaders and went on to establish the ‘All India Village Industries Association’ to devote most of his time experimenting in reorganisation of Indian villages. In an attempt to rebuild and preserve the Indian village culture and economy, he trained people in dairy, handlooms, leather work, pottery, oil pressing, bee-keeping and even making Neera from palm trees and jaggery among others.

Nearly 80 years later, little did anyone expect a similar attempt taking shape in the newly formed State of Telangana. Incentives for weavers, reopening of toddy compounds for toddy tappers, distribution of subsidised sheep for Golla-Kuruma communities and cattle for dairy farmers, releasing fishlings and shrimp into village tanks to promote fisheries, and financial assistance to upgrade service-oriented professions like barbers and washermen – and one cannot miss the similarities. Interestingly, this time, the attempts to revive rural economy are being made by the government which is paying off slowly but surely. For instance, the sheep population has increased by around 15-20 per cent after the launch of the subsidised sheep scheme by Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao on June 20 this year. As compared to the sheep population of 1.28 crore in 2012 which dropped further in the next two years, latest figures reveal that their population had touched over 1.5 crore now, thanks to the implementation of the sheep distribution scheme.

More than 7.61 lakh eligible persons submitted their applications for the sheep units being supplied at a subsidy of 75 per cent as against the market price of Rs 1.25 lakh per unit. The State government has set a target of 3,62,445 units of sheep for distribution during the current fiscal where each unit comprises 20 sheep and one ram. As on December 10, the officials have distributed about 1.45 lakh units of sheep across the State which translates into about 30.5 lakh sheep. Telangana State Sheep and Goat Development Corporation (TSSGDC) chairman K Rajaiah Yadav said the population of sheep distributed in June-July had increased by at least 20 per cent in the last six months. Though the officials are busy in the distribution of sheep and are yet to quantify growth in sheep population, he said that field level information from the beneficiaries confirmed that the scheme was showing signs of success.

“While acquiring the sheep itself, we ensured that a couple of sheep from each unit are pregnant which have started delivering lambs. As the breeding season for the sheep started two months ago, we expect their population to increase further,” Rajaiah Yadav explained. Each sheep gives birth to three lambs over a period of two years. It is estimated that the sheep population increased by at least 15 per cent even after taking into account some deaths during distribution, delivery or due to diseases in the last six months. The officials are confident that the exact growth rate of sheep population can be estimated by the end of this fiscal year.

The officials had a tough time calculating the exact population of the sheep due to the alleged resale of sheep distributed under the scheme. In some cases, sheep distributed under the scheme died due to seasonal diseases, climate change and ‘stress’ suffered during transportation over long distances from neighbouring States of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Incidentally, the number of sheep available with shepherds as per records does not tally with those available with them in reality in many cases. Chandrashekhar Rao launched the scheme to develop Telangana State into largest meat exporting State in the country. According to him, the sheep distribution scheme was like sowing seeds for a greater tomorrow. According to preliminary estimations, the sheep breeding is expected to create wealth of Rs 20,000 crore in the next two years. During 2016-17, Telangana State stood at sixth place in meat exports in the country even as twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad were experiencing shortage of 60 tonnes of meat every day.

Youngsters turning into entrepreneurs

Younger generation from Golla and Kuruma communities have joined hands to become entrepreneurs and established sheep farms in different parts of the State. With the government making every person aged above 18 years from the shepherd community eligible for the scheme, majority of youth from the community are benefitting from it. Students like M Yadagiri from Nalgonda district have availed the scheme and lent the sheep to their cousins for rearing. “Of our four cousins, three received one sheep unit each. In last four months, our sheep gave birth to eight lambs. Though a couple of sheep died, we are still positive about improving our business,” he said.

With increasing demand from eligible persons from Golla-Kuruma communities, the State government decided to extend sheep distribution scheme in urban areas. The Chief Minister agreed to extend the scheme to eligible persons from urban areas following repeated pleas from the Golla-Kuruma community elders. The officials are finalising the modalities and will launch the scheme after obtaining approval from the Chief Minister.

The middlemen menace

Sheep distribution scheme could not be implemented without its share of trouble especially entry of middlemen who resorted to recycling of sheep and also increased prices. Some middlemen formed syndicates to purchase sheep from the beneficiaries and transport it to neighbouring States either to be sold locally or to be sold back to the Telangana government officials again. The officials noticed that several sheep which were distributed with tag markings on their ears under the government scheme returned to the markets in the neighbouring States with tags removed. In all, the officials have either served notices or registered cases against at least 700 beneficiaries who have sold their sheep obtained under the scheme and also those who were smuggling them. Many cases are yet to be reported and officials have launched a detailed probe into them.

On the other hand, sheep traders in the neighbouring States have also hiked the prices by at least Rs 2,000 per sheep due to growing demand and made it difficult for the State government officials to purchase them. The State government has fixed the sheep unit price at Rs 1.25 lakh each where each sheep costs Rs 5,000 and a ram at around Rs 7,000, while the remaining amount is towards miscellaneous costs including transportation of sheep. But now the sheep price has increased to Rs 7,000, and a ram costs more than Rs 10,000.

Task Force to curb smuggling

With increasing cases of sheep resale, recycling and smuggling being reported from different districts, the State government has instructed District Collectors to form a task force team each, comprising police, vigilance, revenue and animal husbandry departments. Task Force teams are already in place in some districts, while other districts will have them ready within a week.

Nizamabad Joint Director of Animal Husbandry Dr Prabhakar said that to prevent the beneficiaries from selling their sheep obtained under the subsidised scheme, mandal and village committees are also being formed to keep track of illegal trade of sheep. He said Task Force teams are conducting surprise inspection of sheep and if the beneficiaries had sold off their sheep, they were asked to track and seize the sheep, vehicle transporting them and also register criminal cases against the beneficiaries.

Shortage of quality sheep

Due to shortage of sheep, officials are unable to find quality sheep. For instance, against a target of 3.62 lakh sheep units in the State, around 1.45 lakh beneficiaries received their sheep. “Lack of healthy sheep at purchasing point in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh has become a challenge for us. We have sent a request to the higher authorities to assign another purchasing point to help the targeted beneficiaries purchase healthy sheep,” said Dr N Vikram Kumar, Joint Director of Animal Husbandry of Karimnagar district.

Stylo grass in 45 lakh acres

The State government has already started cultivation of stylo grass in about one lakh acres of land belonging to Horticulture and Forest Departments. With abundant rains, stylo grass cultivation is expected to give good results shortly and supply the required fodder for sheep distributed under the scheme. The government intends to take up stylo grass cultivation in about 45 lakh acres of land belonging to the Forest Department as well as private lands as internal crop to prevent shortage of fodder.

Veterinary help just a call away

The State government’s decision to deploy a fleet of 100 veterinary mobile ambulances’ is yielding desired results to ensure veterinary care for livestock especially sheep distributed under the Sheep Distribution Scheme. Following this move, livestock in most Assembly constituencies are covered for veterinary care.

The officials of the Animal Husbandry Department are taking steps to prevent sheep distributed across the State under the subsidy scheme from any kind of disease. Officials have de-wormed the animals and have administered vaccine for Sheep Pox as well as a Peste des petits Ruminants (PPR) disease or Goat Plague. Officials have confirmed that a few sheep have been infected with the Foot-Rot disease and deployed teams to prevent the disease from spreading. With the government not allocating specific funds for medicines to sheep, the officials have admitted that they were having difficulty in procuring medicines and the higher officials are consulting the District Collectors concerned to make alternate arrangements.

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