BARMER: Hajeeb Ali, 70, had to mortgage his wife's jewellery to feed fodder to his beloved cattle in Bandasar, the last village in Barmer Lok Sabha constituency along the international border with Pakistan.
Ali is not alone in his village, a Muslim-dominated area. There are many in Bandasar who are facing acute difficulties for a long time to arrange fodder in Barmer, which has no pasture land for cattle.
Shortage of fodder is a major poll issue in the Thar district Lok Sabha constituency.
Ali says in every election, candidates of political parties come to the village to seek votes, but after winning polls, they never return. A drought is a bad time for cattle as their source of food dries up, even if they are abandoned and allowed to roam freely by farmers.
In Bandasar and 150 villages nearby, small and big such as Munabav, Ramsar, Bhigusi, Gagaria, Bhajpar, Derasar and Bikusar, when there is no rain, farmers have to look for other things, including working under MGNREGA and going to Ahmedabad, around 500 kilometers from Bandasar, in search of work to feed both family and cattle.
Ali has 28 cows and calves. But, he said, he and his wife, who considered them as a part of their family, worry every two-three days as to how to arrange fodder instead of feeding their children as arrangement of their food cost them much less than what cattle eat.
He says he has around 100-acre land in Bandapur, but it is lying useless as he cannot use it because of the drought-situation.
"I had to mortgage 170 grams of gold jewellery of my wife to arrange money for fodder for my cattle. I and my wife consider cattle like our family. Our cattle is everything to us. Government should find a permanent solution to this problem existing across the Thar desert area," Ali said.
When there is rain, pasture land is easily available for cattle, Subha Momin, another villager, said.
Ramesh Chand, a former sarpanch of the nearby border village of Gatra, said the Rajasthan government used to run fodder camps where cattle food was available at subsidised rates for farmers, but for the last three years, no such camp has been organised.
Chand also said that farmers having not more than 12 acres of land would only be covered by the scheme, and because of this, most farmers, who have desert land ranging from 40 to 100 acres, are deprived of state-run programmes.
There are around 300 small and big villages in Barmer Lok Sabha constituency, falling within a 50-70 -km radius from the international border. Government has constructed concrete wells to store rainwater, but this is only useful when there is good amount of rainfall.
Due to water scarcity in the desert area, people have to shell out Rs 2,000 to 3,000 to buy 2,500 litres of water which is used for both family members and cattle.
"Not only Barmer, but the entire Thar desert area of Rajasthan has also been facing water scarcity. But the government is doing nothing. Being far-reach areas, candidates come only for campaigning, and once elections are over, nobody comes to these villages," says Changa, who goes by his first name.
Apart from shortage of fodder and water scarcity, health is also an issue in those villages where no hospital facility has been set up by authorities.
Desar village, 50 km from the international border, has a population of 6,000 persons, but it and its nearby areas do not have any health facility.
Nawaj Ali, a villager, says when a person has fever, he or his family has to spend around Rs 1,000 on the transportation to reach the city area of Barmer to get medical treatment.
"In case of emergency, we have to rush patients to a health facility located at Barmer's city point to get him or her medical treatment, and this situation is a brisk business for transporters," he said.
Barmer goes to polls on April 29. Elections will be held in two phases in Rajasthan. Voting in 13 constituencies will be held in the initial phase on April 29. The remaining 12 constituencies will vote on May 6.