Goalas dumping milk into drains as milk prices have drastically dropped owing to the nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19 outbreak. (Source: Debraj Deb)
After five days of lockdown for COVID-19 in Tripura, ‘goala’ or milkmen were seen dumping milk down the drain at Goalabasti here as milk sales have taken a hit. What used to fetch them Rs. 80 per litre from households and Rs. 45 per litre from sweets and confectionery shops has plummeted, in some cases, to Rs 20 per litre, if not less.
Around 400 families live at Goalabasti with over 7,000 people and these families have no less than 10,000 cows. The ‘basti’ is based on a contested piece of land since the 1970s.
Anwesha Devi, a cattle rearer and mother of two at Goalabasti, said all sweet and confectioners have stopped buying milk from them as most sweet shops have rolled down their shutters during lockdown.
“We are throwing away milk. What else can we do? We consume as much as we can. But we can’t drink it all. We have to throw away the rest," she said.
Subhash Ray, an elderly cattle rearer at Goalabasti, said the condition of milk producers have severely deteriorated in last five days. With over two more weeks to go for the lockdown to end, he fears the ‘goalas’ will die of starvation and so will their cows.
“The condition is very bad. There is no cattle feed. We aren’t going out of fear to sell milk since lockdown is in force and police is on the streets. We have no hay, no feed for our cows. Our government isn’t giving attention to these issues. We are observing government rules but without milk sale, we might face starvation," he said. Subhash has appealed to the state government to ensure milk sales, arrange government dairy or some agency to purchase milk from them.
Another ‘goala’, Mithlesh Ray, has said the crisis of cattle feed is more severe than human food shortage.
“No cattle feed is available. We need bhushi, daana, khol. Every goala family here has 10-20 cows. In absence of feed, we are giving them namak ka pani (salt water)," Mithilesh said.
Others like Binda Ray, Manjay Ray said selling milk is out of the question as police is beating up anyone on the streets. "I sold some milk at Battala. Police is charging lath in many places. I saw and ran away home as fast as I could. What to do with so much milk? We can’t preserve it for long either," Manjay said.
The goalas collectively feel that milk vendors must be allowed to freely operate as the central government has listed milk supplies among emergency services and states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh have ensured milk supplies.
On the issue, Minister for Animal Rearing Development Santana Chakma said the government has already coordinated with Gomati Dairy and other concerned organisations about transportation of milk. “I was told there was some problem with transportation due to shortage of vehicles. But we have asked concerned officials to solve the issue and make arrangements as early as possible. We hope things will be normal soon," the minister said.