Patna, Nov. 18: Demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes has badly hit animal trade at Asia's largest cattle fair in Sonepur that started on November 12.
Both buyers and sellers are in a dilemma, not sure how to wriggle out of the unexpected crisis of unavailability of adequate cash after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's shock announcement on November 8.
Many are afraid that they would come under the lens of the taxmen if they fork out money for purchase of pure bred horses and other animals. Pure bred horses can cost upwards of Rs 3 lakh.
Sellers, who eagerly await the month-long Sonepur fair throughout the year, hoping to make a tidy profit, are also unsure how to deal with the sudden "bad time".
The most affected are the cow and buffalo traders, as sales have dipped by more than 50 per cent owing to cash shortage. Sheep and horses are facing a similar buyer crunch.
Cow trader Naresh Yadav said: "More than 1,600 cows and buffaloes have been brought for sale at the fair. But because of a cash crunch, only 200 of them have been sold till date. The buyers are shying away, as they are short of currency notes. Since sales are conducted here in cash and not through cards, non-functional ATMs and the huge crowds at almost all banks are adding to their woes."
Subodh Rai, who has come from Uttar Pradesh to buy cows, said: "We are facing a lot of trouble as no buyers are taking Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. Everyone is asking for new notes. From where do we bring the new notes as there is a cap on withdrawing money from banks? The ATMs are almost running dry."
Horse trader Om Prakash Singh said a week into the fair, he used to sell 30 to 40 horses every year.
"This year, after the bigger notes were scrapped, only five to 10 horses have been sold in the last one week out of the 2,100 that have been brought. We even brought down the prices this year to draw customers, but they are not interested in buying. The sale of cows has been hit for the past few years, albeit for different reasons," Singh said.
Apart from cows and horses, there are no takers of sheep as well. Around 350 sheep and goats are lined up at the fair. Around 10 have been sold so far, said fair insiders.
The cow and buffalo trade has been adversely affected also because expensive and high quality cows and buffaloes are not being transported from Punjab, Haryana, Assam and Bengal because of certain restrictions imposed on transportation of animals from one state to another under the Wildlife Protection Act and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
The other factor that loomed large over cow traders was the fear of vigilante groups, as they fear of reprisal from them.
Cow trader Naresh Yadav said: "Our business has plummeted recently. Thanks to the politics over beef and cow slaughter. Five years ago, around 25,000 cows were brought here and more than half found takers."
The fair already lost its sheen when then Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar banned the trade of elephants in 2015 citing illegal sale of elephants on a mass scale. The Centre had passed the order in the wake of a complaint registered by Union women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi.
Elephant trade was the chief attraction at the fair as no less than 250 pachyderms were brought to Sonepur from across Bihar and other states. But the number has dwindled to double digits over the past few years. This year only 15 elephants could be seen, said Santosh Singh, a jumbo seller.