Explained: The controversial camel conservation law of Rajasthan that is facing opposition from cattle rearers

Over time, the controversial law has been raised in the state Assembly with the Rajasthan High Court also taking suo motu cognizance of the plight of camel herders after The Indian Express reported about the issue in August.

For a long time now, camel herders and cattle rearers in Rajasthan have been carrying out a sustained opposition and protests against The Rajasthan Camel (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 2015, citing loss of livelihood and business ever since the law was passed by the Rajasthan Assembly in 2015.

Over time, the controversial law has been raised in the state Assembly with the Rajasthan High Court also taking suo motu cognizance of the plight of camel herders after The Indian Express reported about the issue in August. At the ongoing Pushkar cattle fair, the largest cattle fair involving camels in Rajasthan, people from the Raika and Raibari communities of camel herders have been vocal in their warning to the government that if the law is not amended, the camel population in Rajasthan could further fall.

What is the camel conservation law of Rajasthan?

The Rajasthan Camel (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 2015, aims to provide for prohibition of slaughter of camels and also to regulate temporary migration or export thereof from Rajasthan.

According to the law, no person shall possess, sell or transport for sale or cause to be sold or transported camel meat or camel meat products in any form. It further adds that no person shall export and cause to be exported any camel himself or through his agent, servant or other person acting on his behalf from any place within the State to any place outside the State for the purposes of slaughter or with the knowledge that it may be or is likely to be slaughtered.

The law also regulates temporary migration of camels, saying that a ‘Competent Authority’ may issue special permit in the prescribed manner for their export from Rajasthan for agricultural or dairy farming purposes or for participation in an animal fair, and before granting such permission the Competent Authority shall also ensure that such export in no way reduces the number of such camels below the level of actual requirement of the local area.

This provision requires that for the migration of every camel outside Rajasthan for any purpose including legit sale, permission of the competent authority has to be required.

As per the act, a competent authority means collector of a district and includes any other officer who may be authorised on this behalf by the state government by notification in the official gazette.

What were the reasons for the law being passed?

The then Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government has passed the camel conservation law citing that the animal is endangered and in need for initiation of sincere efforts for its conservation and protection.

“Several cases of intentional killings of camels and their progeny have come to light. It has also been observed that a large number of camels are transported or carried out of Rajasthan to other states for the purpose of slaughter. The recurrent famine and scarcity conditions in the State tend to increase this menace all the more. The existing laws are not sufficient to tackle this problem,” says the statements of objects and reasons for the 2015 law.

The then Rajasthan government had reasoned saying that the law was necessary after taking into consideration ‘the social, cultural and economic usefulness and contribution of camels.’

“Looking to the social, cultural and economic usefulness and contribution of camels, and to ensure their conservation, it is therefore, in general interest to enact a fresh law to prohibit the slaughter of camels as also to prohibit the export of such animals for the purposes of slaughter and to regulate, for other purposes, 26 the temporary migration or export of such animals in order to safeguard the camel species and also the interests of public deriving benefit from them,” the state government had said.

What has been its impact?

People from the Raika and Raibari communities, which have been rearing camels from generations, say that camel breeders say that the process of getting permission to transport camels outside the state as per the 2015 Act often takes months. This has resulted in a dip in purchasers from other states outside Rajasthan, who were earlier the primary customers who purchased camels from cattle fairs.

A look at the data of camels brought to the Pushkar cattle fair shows a substantial decrease than earlier. As per data from the Rajasthan Animal Husbandry department, in 2011, 8,238 camels were brought to the fair for sale but this figure went down to 3,298 camels in 2019.

Ever since the law was enacted, the difficulty in finding customers have resulted in a dire economic situation for camel herders, says camel conservation activist Hanwant Singh, director of Lokhit Pashupalak Sangsthan.

As a result, in the last few years, there have been sustained protests by camel rearers, with their worry being accelerated by the fact that the camel population in Rajasthan have been consistently decreasing.

As per the provisional data of the 20th Livestock Census of Rajasthan, in 2019, there were 2.12 lakh camels in the state, which was much less than the figure in 2012, when there were 3.2 lakh camels in the state.

What is the incumbent Rajasthan government’s stand regarding the law?

In September this year, Rajasthan Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Minister Lalchand Kataria told the state Assembly that 84.43 per cent of total camels in the country are found in Rajasthan and their population has consistently decreased in the last 30 years.

The minister had said that in the next Assembly session, a government committee has decided that some amendments will be made to the 2015 Act to enable migration of camels and to ensure that farmers, who have stopped keeping camels after the law was passed, are encouraged to do so once again.

The matter is also being monitored by the Rajasthan High Court, which had appointed advocate Prateek Kasliwal as amicus curiae to assist the court on the matter. In his report submitted to the High Court, Kasliwal calls for necessary amendments to the 2015 law, among other things.

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