Mumbai: Rain or shine,
they would deliver their ware. But, following a sustained campaign
by an animal rights group and celebrities, Maharashtra has finally
brought the curtains down on 465 bullock carts that were being
used since 1906 for transporting kerosene in the city.
As per a recent notification, since Feb 1, the State Ministry of
Food and Civil Supplies, through the Controller of Rationing, has
discontinued the kerosene quota for bullock cart owners, said an
official from the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA),
which campaigned for five years on the issue.
However, bullock cart owners are up in arms and have threatened to
challenge the government move.
"Our families are on the verge of starvation, they have no other
source of income. Many of them have been in this trade for three
or four generations, but we have not got any notice or
compensation from the government or the oil companies," a fuming
Bullock Cart Owners' Association chief, Jitendra Joshi, told IANS.
Until the ban, the 465 cart owners used to regularly ferry one
tonne of kerosene each day from the Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum
and Hindustan Petroleum warehouses in Sewri and Wadala in south
Mumbai to retail outlets across the city and suburbs.
Nearly 500 bullocks were deployed on a daily payment of
Rs.105-Rs.250, said bullock cart owner Abdul Ghani Sheikh.
Mahendra Karush, a third generation bullock cart driver, said his
grandfather used to narrate stories of how the bullock carts
helped tide over the shortage of trucks to transport kerosene
during the British era and even later.
"The most important aspect was bullock carts were a highly
navigable, cheap and all-weather option to transport kerosene.
They functioned even in heavy rains or when the roads were flooded
and in congested, narrow lanes to deliver the crucial cooking fuel
to anxious citizens," Karush told IANS.
Recounting a slice of Mumbai's history, he said the traffic
problems started only after the mid-1980s and created problems for
manoeuvring the bullock carts.
"My father used to complain that suddenly the number of vehicles
seemed to swell on the roads and bullock carts were virtually
driven to the pavements," he said.
A majority of the bullock carts were - and are still - owned and
run by migrants to the city, mostly from north Indian states.
However, animal rights group PETA frowned at the practice and
claimed that the animals were subjected to cruelty.
"These animals endured tremendous suffering. Many bullocks were
underweight and ill, kept in filthy conditions and forced to work
beyond their physical capabilities, pulling heavy loads in all
weather extremes," PETA's India director of veterinary affairs
Manilal Valliyate told IANS.
The bullocks suffered from yoke gall (acute and chronic
inflammation caused by pressure from a yoke or harness),
maggot-infested wounds, infected sores, acute or chronic arthritis
or intestinal problems, such as diarrhoea and impaction.
The animals were rarely, if ever, given veterinary treatment,
created a traffic hazard and were a risk to the public, he added.
"Forcing sick or injured bullocks to pull heavy oil carts on busy,
hot and polluted Mumbai streets is an act of extreme abuse. We are
happy that the government has brought this archaic and illegal
practice to an end," Valliyate said.
PETA India's campaign included numerous meetings with oil
companies and the state government, demonstrations outside Indian
Oil Company petrol pumps, disruption of a global Oil and Gas
Review Summit and International Exhibition, and petitions signed
by Bollywood actors Akshaye Khanna, Rahul Khanna, Raveena Tandon,
Eesha Koppikar, Arjun Rampal and others.
Joshi also demanded that the state government initiate immediate
measures to rehabilitate the bullock cart owners.
"If the authorities do not take priority steps, we shall be
compelled to park our bullock carts on the roads or outside the
government offices," Joshi warned, besides seeking legal recourse
on the issue.
Another bullock cart owner Mahendra Karush demanded that the
government increase the kerosene quota allotted to them and that
the oil companies provide mini-tankers and diesel to existing cart
owners, so they can remain employed.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)