Feast of Memories -7

Dr. Madhavan continuing his story of formation of village level Milk Producers Cooperative Societies in Erode shares about his meeting with Thiru C Subramaniam thanks to Dr. LK Muthuswamy and the way the Spearhead Team Members won the hearts of people by doing odd jobs, visiting homes of farmers and treating sick mulch animals.

Dr LK Muthuswamy

Dr LK Muthuswamy was the President of the Erode Cooperative Milk Supply Union. Established in 1962, this Union was responsible for collection of milk from villages and marketing it in Erode town.

Vendors collected milk from the farmers in villages and brought it to Erode where it was chilled in the Union’s chilling plant and chilled milk was sold in Erode town.

As milk was not tested at any level (farmer or chilling plant), the quality was poor: 3-4% Fat and 7%SNF. It was heavily adulterated buffalo milk!

The daily milk collection was 1500 litres in the lean and 3000-4500 litres in the flush. As a result, the Union couldn’t meet the demand in lean and sell all the milk in flush. The surplus milk was converted into khova for which there was good demand.

The Union couldn’t serve either the producer’s or the consumer’s interest. The producers were dis-satisfied because the Union couldn’t provide an assured and remunerative market for their milk and the consumer, because there was no assured and quality milk supply. The Union was thus caught in a vicious cycle.

I met Dr Muthuswamy and explained to him the Operation Flood programme and why the Spearhead Team had been deployed to Erode. Dr Muthuswamy welcomed the NDDB Spearhead Team because the producers will be benefited and the consumers, by good quality milk. He extended full cooperation, including office space for the team, in the Union’s premises.

Dr Muthuswamy was a leading medical practitioner and a respectable person in Erode and surrounding villages, both as a doctor and a prominent figure among the Grounder community to which he belonged to.

His two sons had married Mr C Subramanian’s daughters. Mr Subramaniam was the Union Finance Minister at that time. Dr Muthuswamy was closely related to Mr SK Paramasivan also.

Through Mr Paramasivan and Dr Muthuswamy, I got introduced to Mr Subramaniam. The Minister evinced great interest in the implementation of Operation Flood programme in Erode which enabled me to interact with him often.

Whenever the Minister visited Erode, I met him and discussed about the progress of the programme. His guidance and advice were of great help. Mr Subramaniam had fully supported NDDB and the Operation Flood programme, in the initial stages, when he was the Union Agriculture Minister.

After the formation of several cooperatives around Erode, the milk collection increased substantially. The milk vendors, including those of the Erode Milk supply Union, found it extremely difficult to face competition from the newly formed cooperatives. Consequently, milk collection by the vendors came down drastically.

The Erode Milk Supply Union’s milk collection was adversely affected: they didn’t have enough milk to stay in the market.

Dr Muthuswamy felt furious and accused me of depriving the Union of all the milk. I tried to pacify him saying that it was only a temporary phenomenon and that arrangement will be made to market wholesome, pasteurised milk in Erode town soon. He didn’t agree with me and wanted something to be done immediately to solve the crisis.

At that point, Mr Subramaniam had come to Erode and I was summoned to meet him.

Dr Muthuswamy complained to Shri Subramaniam: “When Madhavan came to Erode I provided him office space and other facilities at the Union’s premises. Now, he has taken away all the milk and the Union had no milk to market”.

Mr Subramaniam told Dr Muthuswamy that the problem was only temporary and that Dr Madhavan will make arrangements for marketing milk in Erode soon. He asked Dr Muthuswamy to be patient and continue to cooperate with me and extend all support. My conflict with Dr Muthuswamy had reached Dr Kurien’s ears and I was asked to mellow down my approach with Dr Muthuswamy.

Are you a Doctor?

The spearhead team used to do all odd jobs at the cooperative: milk collection, milk testing, writing records, milk payments, cleaning of testing equipment, milk cans, cleaning the premises, etc.

On one occasion, when the buffalo of a farmer fell ill, one of the team members, a veterinarian, treated that animal and it became all right. Another memorable incident was I had the good fortune of handling two cases of “uterine torsion” (difficult delivery due to twisted uterus) in two Murrah buffaloes in two villages (Chinniampalayam and Nagammanaickanpalayam) where we had organised milk cooperatives.

I corrected the torsion and both the buffaloes survived, with two healthy female calves.

The farmers were surprised and asked us “Are you doctors? They said the government doctors will not get down from the jeep when they visited the village! Here, you people do all odd jobs like cleaning, testing, lifting the cans, etc.

Humility had paid in winning the confidence of the farmers…

Kokarako Ko

In the spearhead team, we had an Extension Assistant, Brhambhat, who was a Gujarati. He didn’tunderstand a word of Tamil but yet was very popular among the farmers.

Brahmbhatt will go to a farmers home and if he found that the farmer’s wife was busy cutting vegetables, he will lend a helping hand to her. Slowly, with signs, he will ask the lady to supply milk to the cooperative. Invariably, he succeeded and the lady started giving milk to the society.

He was very friendly with all the children and they followed him wherever he went in the village. Ultimately, he succeeded in driving out the vendors from that village and getting all the milk to the society (Kombupalayam).

There was a festival in that village for which the farmers wanted to invite him for a feast with chicken biriyani. They found a novel way to invite him by saying “Kokarako ko” and the rest, by signs. It worked: Bhrambhat understood and joined them in the feast! Language is no barrier in building contacts!

Not Met for Years

I had made it a point to be present at the cooperative society on the first day of milk collection. We used to start the society with the evening milk because of the prevailing practice of mixing evening milk with morning milk, as practiced at the creameries. 

After declaring open a society in a remote village, witnessed by several farmers, the secretary of the society started milk collection. After seeing farmers pouring milk, I stood at a little distance away from the society. I was keenly watching the farmers returning home after supplying milk and overhearing their conversation which was mainly on the society just started. What interested me most was the conversation between two old ladies: with smiles on their faces, one lady told the other lady “it must be more than five years since we had met”. Both the ladies lived in the same village but had not met each other for five years. From that day onwards, they will be meeting twice a day, 365 days. Thanks to the milk cooperative! 

The cooperative society became the meeting place for the farmers. Govt officials visiting the village found the society a convenient platform for talking to the farmers. Family Planning Department officials found the society all the more convenient to talk to the ladies.

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

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