Animal Husbandry, one of the oldest branches of agriculture, contributes 5.1 per cent to the Indian economy. It has become a means of sustenance for millions of Indians who hold a very marginal piece of land. This sector is on the rise in many states and has created many employment opportunities. In Assam, this sector has seen many youths switching jobs from their usual 9 to 5 to pursue this sector.
However, for fresh Veterinarians in Assam, their sector hardly feels welcoming. It is due to a chronic lack of job opportunities in the state government departments. The National Commission on Agriculture (NCA) in 1976 suggested that there should be 1 field Veterinarian per 5,000 bovines. Bovine is a group of cow, ox, buffalo and bison.
Assam has an average of 2.2 crore bovines, which in turn, needs 4,051 veterinary officers and some director-level officers, as per the recommendation of NCA.
But in the current scenario, only 1,003 posts occupied by field-level veterinary officers in the Veterinary and Animal Husbandry Department, Government of Assam.
Out of those 1003, only 703 officers work in the field, functioning from the dispensaries. Comparing Assam with Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha, we clearly lack in this sector.
Animal Husbandry depends on five core aspects for its success, and they are breeding, feeding, management, marketing and healthcare. Although, except healthcare, all other four aspects can be handled by a non-Veterinarian with proper training and guidance. But for the healthcare of the animal, a skilled Veterinarian is highly required.
A survey in rural Assam will reveal that lack of veterinary support has been one of the major limiting factors behind Assam being only a net importer of animal products. The state imports nearly 42 lakh eggs per day from other states in India. There is no export of animal products from the state. We have seen no growth in milk production, which remains low, compared to other states in the country. Other northeastern states might soon overtake us in less than five years. Despite cooperative societies and Veterinary student’s bodies writing to the government, this sector still sees many roadblocks.
Many cows across the state die every day from diseases such as Babesiosis, Theileriosis, Mastitis, etc. These deadly diseases could have been prevented if there were field veterinarians across the state. The outbreaks of African swine fever in Pigs and Lumpy skin disease in cattle last year, and Avian Influenza devastated the industry. At that time, even the government felt the need for Veterinarians in rural areas. However, until today, nothing has been worked out.
Many Veterinary dispensaries and sub-centres across the state are in shambles. In the past, many projects were introduced, such as the Intensive Cattle Development Project (ICDP) and dairy processing units; however, today, the sites of such projects are just collecting rust.
With no fruitful result in those projects, permanent and contractual employees are still getting paid. There is a project, there is manpower, but what it lacks is the fruitful result. Assam is way behind states like Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, Gujarat and Karnataka, where the Animal Husbandry industry churns out substantial income.
There is an acute and alarming issue of anti-microbial resistance in the animals, and the animal husbandry sector has a critical role to play.
Antibiotic residues have been a challenge in this sector because these residues enter the body of a human via milk and meat. In return, the effectiveness of antibiotics lessens the next time you are infected. It is due to the rampant unethical use of antibiotics by farmers who try to save the visiting fees of a private Veterinarian or Para-staff. The greed of producing more quantity of the animal product has increased the antibiotic residues. Without any skilled Veterinarian, this issue cannot be controlled at the grassroots.
It is high time to consider veterinarians as doctors. We treat those who cannot speak and are helpless. We treat every species under the same roof, from a hamster to an elephant. Even to perform a post-mortem of an aquatic mammal requires a Veterinarian.
After toiling for 5.5 years, studying from cropping patterns to making ice cream, with high expectations to serve society, after completion of bachelor’s degree in Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry, the fresh graduates end up jobless.
More than a hundred Veterinarians pass out every year from the two Veterinary Science colleges in Assam, one in Guwahati and the other in Lakhimpur. Unfortunately, since 2015, only 105 fresh graduates have been inducted into government jobs, leaving aside hundreds of others. These left-out Veterinarians are taking up low-paid private jobs in metro cities. The anxiety is tremendous across all, especially those from the lower economic background who saw this profession as a way to get a better livelihood. States like Bihar in 2019 inducted more than 900 Veterinarian in the state government department.
However, every one of us has hopes that there will opportunities. But the sad reality is that the ministers and bureaucrats are least bothered about this sector and our future. We are the backbone of India’s economy, but when there is no job and social security, what kind of backbone are we?
Veterinarians are most affected in terms of employability. Assam’s animal husbandry will rise, only if there is a good absorption rate of Veterinarians in the government sector. The lack of field Veterinarians has also impacted the cooperative movement in Assam and has also impacted the small and medium-scale farmers. It is high time that the state government thinks not just about us but also about the Animal Husbandry sector of the state which is lagging.
Dr. Rajsekhar Sapcota is a Veterinary doctor and a master’s student in College of Veterinary Science, Guwahati.