CHANDIGARH: Nearly 1,000 families, mainly comprising pastoralist Muslim Gujjars, have been stranded in parts of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh along with 10,000 livestock and are facing livelihood crisis owing to ongoing lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus pandemic.
They rued on Thursday that they have been facing hardships as locals reported to be refusing to buy milk from them, fearing they might be inflicted with coronavirus. Also the governments asked them to settle down and stop their livestock migration.
Himachal Ghumantu Pashupalak Mahasabha Vice President Lal Hussain said the government in the state was not allowing interstate and intrastate migration of people fearing the spread of the virus.
“We have been told by the local authorities that migration of the Gujjars won’t be allowed till April 20 as their final destinations in the Chamba district have been declared corona hotspots,” Hussain told IANS over phone.
He said after April 20 the administration would review the situation and take a call on their migration.
The Gujjars normally start migrating along with the livestock, mainly buffaloes, from the plains of Punjab and some pockets of the Kangra district in Himachal Pradesh by first week of April towards interiors of the Chamba district, which has a huge concentration of the Muslim Gujjars.
This is an annual phenomenon. By the end of September, they start migration from the hills to the plains. In the plains they largely settle along the seasonal rivulet Swan in the Hoshiarpur district and pockets in the Gurdaspur district.
It takes them about 30 to 40 days to reach their destination with their livestock. Their main source of livelihood is by selling milk.
But Hussain said owing to the fears of coronavirus most of the families stranded in Punjab have been facing financial crunch owing to the locals refusing to buy milk from them.
“And if they are buying, the rates are abnormally low. Against the normal rate of Rs 50 a litre, one is buying at a rate of Rs 10 to 15 a litre. Also if someone is daily selling 50 to 60 litres milk a day, the daily sale has come down to 15 to 20 litres,” he added.
Earlier, there were reports that the Gujjars were threatened by locals amid fear of having proximity with members of Tablighi Jamaat, who have been labelled as ‘super-spreader’ of coronavirus.
Himachal Ghumantu Pashupalak Mahasabha President Raj Kumar, who is based in Palampur in the Kangra district, told IANS over phone that even ‘Gaddis’ have been temporarily barred from migrating to the higher reaches of the state.
He said the Himachal government should make adequate arrangements to stock fodder as a preventive step.
They mainly reside in lower hills of Kangra, Mandi, Kullu, Chamba, Shimla and Kinnaur districts in winter and move to higher hills along with the livestock by trudging 500 to 600 km to higher reaches every summer.
As per official figures, Himachal supports 12 lakh goats, eight lakh sheep and buffaloes each.
Livestock is an integral to the sustainability of the economy of pastorals in Himachal.
According to the state’s Economic Survey report, the contribution of major livestock products in 2019-20 was 15.30 lakh tonnes of milk, 1,516 tonnes of wool, 105 million eggs and 4,600 tonne of meat.
In Punjab, 80 per cent of milk is distributed to the towns and cities by the dairy farmers, comprising the migratory Gujjars. Punjab’s Milkfed, Amul and Nestlé account for the remaining 20 per cent.
Acting tough on the people reported to be refusing to buy milk from the Muslim Gujjars, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh directed the Deputy Commissioners to resolve the issue as social ostracising would not be permitted.
Punjab Industries Minister Sunder Sham Arora on Wednesday said the Gujjars in Talwara in Hoshiarpur district would not be allowed to face any difficulty on account of selling milk by them.
In a statement in Chandigarh, he said he was apprised the Gujjars were facing some difficulty in selling milk and facing hard time in getting food for their families.
He said problems have been resolved and ration and other essentials have been made available to them.
At the same time, he said some of the Gujjars went to Himachal. But due to lockdown, the Himachal government did not allow them entry and they had to return.
A spokesperson for the Himachal’s Animal Husbandry Department said the seasonal migration of sheep breeders is going on but not of the Gujjars in the Chamba district.
The department has set up five transit camps for providing veterinary aid and other logistics to the sheep breeders. So far 280 flocks have entered the Chamba district.
The spokesperson said in a statement that the nomads have been given priority and free movement of livestock has been allowed.
He said that the Himachal Pradesh Milk Federation and Kamdhenu Hitkari Manch are processing milk regularly.
A daily procurement of milk by the federation has increased to 80,000 litres from the earlier procurement of approximately 65,000 litres.
He said permits are being issued for transporting fodder from the neighbouring districts. Since the start of lockdown, approximately 35,000 quintal dry fodder has been received in the state.
As far as the marketing of milk of the Gujjars, 28 Gram Panchayats in Chamba district where they are based are currently coronavirus hotspots and, therefore the sale of milk is affected.
The people in these areas have been advised to prepare products like ghee, cheese, etc. from the surplus milk, said the spokesperson.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)