Feast of Memories -15

Dr. Madhavan shares his reminiscences in a series of articles. He has named these memoirs as “Feast of Memories”. In this episode he talks about meeting the MLA from Kangayam, getting Kaveri water for Erode Dairy, and his “hate and love” relationship with Mr. TN Sheshan.
Rural Health Foundation

Erode was known as an important health centre right from the days of the British. There was a well-equipped government hospital and several private hospitals in Erode. In all, there were more than 300 medical practitioners in Erode. People from all over the district come to Erode for availing medical treatment.

The Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union Ltd, Anand, Gujarat had set up the “Tribhuvandas Foundation” (a registered charitable trust) for the betterment of the rural community in Kaira District. The farmers greatly appreciated this social initiative of AMUL.

I had discussed with the members of the milk cooperatives in Erode regarding the Erode Milk Union providing rural health services to the farmers on the lines of the Tribhuvandas Foundation. They welcomed the idea and desired to initiate appropriate action in the matter. I had informal discussion with some doctors in Erode and all of them wholeheartedly welcomed the idea and agreed to extend their full support.

I discussed the matter with Dr Kurien. He was happy to know about the Erode farmers’ interest in rural health care programme. Informally, he said that NDDB would be in a position to provide about Rs 10 crores for the programme. He also agreed to have a suitable proposal prepared by NDDB for the Erode Milk union, on the lines of the Tribhuvandas Foundation. However, the project didn’t move further.  

Kangayam MLA wants Dairy at Kangayam

Kangayam falls in Dharapuram taluk, one of the four talukas under the area of operation of the Erode Milk Producers’ Union. Our team had just started forming cooperatives in Dharapuram taluk.

Mr RKS Dhandapani, MLA of Kangayam legislative constituency had demanded in the State Assembly that the Feeder Balancing Dairy should be located in Kangayam, instead of Erode.

I decided to meet Mr Dhandapani. After fixing an appointment, I met him at Kangayam. At the outset, I apologised to him for not having met him earlier to brief him about the Erode Dairy Project. I explained to him in detail about the Operation Flood Programme and the Erode Dairy Project. I told him that the one lakh litre dairy which was to be set up would require about three lakh litres of water per day for processing the milk. It was for this reason that the land for the dairy had been chosen at Chithode, hardly three kms from Kaveri River.

Further, I said that irrespective of location of the dairy, all the farmers in Erode District, under the area of operation of the Erode Milk Producers’ Union, would receive the same price for their milk and all inputs for increasing milk production. I asked Mr Dhandapani about the availability of three lakh litres of water per day for milk processing, in Kangayam. Mr Dhandapani was taken aback and said that Kangayam didn’t have water even for drinking purposes!

Realising his mistake, Mr Dhandapani said that had he known this fact, he wouldn’t have made such a demand in the Assembly. I told Mr Dhandapani that it was my mistake that I didn’t meet him earlier and briefed him about the Project. Mr Dhandapani and I became very good friends and he extended full support for the Project.   

Kaveri Water for Erode Dairy

Kaveri River is three kms from the Erode Milk Union premises and the water required for the dairy was to be drawn from it. Tamil Nadu Water & Drainage Board (TWAD Board) was awarded the work, on turnkey. Erode Milk Union had submitted the necessary application to the State Govt for approval, to draw water from Kaveri River.  

As there was acute shortage of water and heavy pressure on Kaveri River on the Tamil Nadu side, the State Govt was reluctant to grant the approval. The proposal got held up at the Secretary, PWD Govt of Tamil Nadu. At that time, Mr Vijayaraghavan was the Secretary, PWD. He was a dynamic and upright officer, but a difficult person to be convinced.

I met Mr Vijayaraghavan, after seeking an appointment. He told me that permission will not be granted at any cost for drawing water form Kaveri River as there wasn’t sufficient water in the river even to meet the demand for drinking purposes. I explained to him about the Operation Flood Programme and the commitment the State Govt had given to the IDC/NDDB to implement the programme in the State. I told him that under the Operation Flood Programme, a one lakh litre dairy with a ten tone powder plant was being set up at Chithode, in the premises of the Erode District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union. NDDB was executing the project on turnkeyand the work on the dairy had already commenced.

I stressed upon the need for water to process milk and that the water used in the dairy will be recycled and almost the same quantity will be available for irrigation in the nearby fields. For this, necessary effluent treatment plant will be installed at the dairy. He got convinced with my reply and asked me to give a written statement to that effect which I gave immediately. Mr Vijayaraghavan cleared the proposal on the spot!

Mr TN Seshan

Mr TN Seshan was the Commissioner, Department of Agriculture, Govt of Tamil Nadu during 1976-1978. Mr Seshan was a dynamic, competent and able officer. At the same time, he was known for his egoistic and arrogant nature. He did all the talking and seldom listened to others. When I shared these views with Dr Kurien, he said that this nature goes with people who are dynamic and efficient! 

As Commissioner, Department of Agriculture, Mr Seshan was also responsible for Animal Husbandry and Dairy Development. Since Anand Pattern was still in its formative stage, I had frequent interaction with Mr Seshan, particularly on the newly formed Erode Milk Producers’ Union and the Erode Dairy Project. Already there was resistance from TNDDC in empowering the Erode Milk Union as it meant dilution of the role of TNDDC. Mr Seshan was not happy that I was advocating total autonomy to the Erode Milk Union in managing its affairs, particularly on matters like milk pricing, recruitment of staff, etc.  Many a times, discussion on these topics ended up in heated arguments.

I was told that Mr Seshan had called Dr Kurien and told “Dr Kurien, if you want the Operation Flood programme to succeed in Tamil Nadu, withdraw Madhavan from Erode”. Dr Kurien knew very well that I was on the right track and that things will get sorted out soon. Nevertheless, he advised me to mellow down my approach towards Mr Seshan. Though I used to vehemently argue with Mr Seshan in all discussions, I had always observed utmost respect, decorum, dignity and decency at all times. My inner sense always told that Mr Seshan liked me.

Mr Seshan was very keen that the Erode Dairy Project got executed by NDDB, as per the agreed schedule. He set up a Monitoring Committee to monitor the progress of the Project, under his Chairmanship. Director (Southern Region), NDDB, MD, TNDDC and Chairman, Erode Milk Union were members of the Committee. I was the Member-Secretary of the Committee. This Committee used to meet every three months and review the progress of the Project. No doubt, the Project got expedited as a result of this Committee.

The Monitoring Committee brought Mr Seshan and the Erode Milk Union closer, especially me. It was a unique opportunity for me to interact closely with Mr Seshan and use him to the maximum advantage of the Union. As a result, I had free access to Mr Seshan to discuss all matters pertaining to the Union and I received maximum support from him. On one of his visits to Erode to attend the Monitoring Committee meeting, we had arranged his visit to one Anand Pattern Milk Cooperative (Thandagoundanpalayam). A function was also arranged at the cooperative, for bonus distribution. It was in a remote village and the function was in the evening. More than two hundred farmers had assembled at the function, many of them ladies. Mr Seshan addressed the farmers and distributed bonus to them. MD, TNDDC also spoke and gave away prizes to three ladies who had supplied maximum quantities of milk. Mr Seshan was immensely impressed with the phenomenal progress of the cooperative and the benefits the farmers obtained. He complimented the NDDB Spearhead Team for the good work done.

Mr Seshan was a changed person after his visit to Erode. Convinced on the success of Anand Pattern cooperatives in Erode, he issued the famous G.O. Ms No.1000 dated June 2, 1978 adopting Anand Pattern throughout the state. He started calling me to Madras often to discuss the Erode Dairy Project and extended his full support. On some matter, when he found that it was not moving as decided, he remarked “Madhavan, don’t allow grass to grow under your feet”. The message was loud and clear to me! It was from Mr Seshan that I learnt about “Murphy’s Law” which he often used to recite when things went wrong.  

Dr Kurien told me some time later that Mr Seshan had mentioned to him: “Dr Kurien, if you want the Operation Flood Programme to succeed, you need to have people like Madhavan”. I felt happy as there cannot be a better appreciation of my work than coming from Mr Seshan.

During 1984-1988, I was posted at NDDB, Delhi. Dr (Miss) Amrita Patel was the Director (Northern Region) at the Delhi office. At that time, Mr Seshan was Secretary, Department of Environment, Govt of India. After attending a meeting with Mr Seshan, Miss Patel called me to her office and asked me if I had “a love and hate relationship” with Mr Seshan. I corrected Miss Patel and said that it was “a hate and love relationship” that I had with Mr Seshan, when I was at Erode. Miss Patel laughed and said that Mr Seshan enquired about you and had asked you to meet him. Though I was reluctant to meet Mr. Sheshan for fear that he will hook me to some assignment, I met him. As predicted, Mr Seshan wanted me to take up some assignment with the Environment Ministry! I felt very happy that he had remembered me.

Contributed by Dr. E. Madhavan, Former Regional Director NDDB , Mumbai