Casteism in Dairy Cooperatives

The Beginning

In February, 1972 I joined NDDB as an Apprentice Officer.

It was the first batch of 16 officers recruited with an aim to establish Farmers’ Organizations in 18 selected Milksheds across 10 States of India. We underwent rigorous training of one year at Amul Dairy so as to understand Anand Pattern at the grass root level since under Operation Flood Anand pattern cooperatives were to be replicated in each milkshed.

On completion of training by the end of February 73, we were appointed as Assistant Executives in Milk Production Enhancement and Procurement Division. Around that time few senior officers from Amul Dairy also joined NDDB and under their leadership two Spear Head Teams (SHT) were deputed to initiate field activities in Murshidabad, West Bengal and Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu.

Dr.Belavadi and myself were deputed to Manipal, Karnataka on a short term assignment to organize Dairy Cooperative Societies ( DCS ) in Udipi district.

By the end of 1973, Dr. A.A.Chothani from Amul Dairy joined NDDB as Deputy Director to head the newly formed Farmers’ Organization Division and most of us were transferred to his Division..

Dr. Chothani had the mandate to give a push to the field activities at much greater speed and there is no doubt that he was very dynamic in his approach. After taking charge he decided to reorganize the field activities. Accordingly he sent orders asking me to return to Head Quarters. It was in early 1974.

Anand to Jalgaon Milk Union

On my return I found that Dr. Chothani was very anxious to share his future plans.

“I have decided to send a Spear Head Team to Jalgaon and have decided to send you as the Team Leader ” he announced as I entered his cabin.

Dr Chothani said “ I know this is a big responsibility but I have no choice other than you to take up this responsibility. Jalgaon is a full fledged Operation Flood project and we have to initiate activity there right away.”

He directed me to get ready with all the papers, formats, documents etc. which may be needed in Jalgaon for translating them into Marathi for for field work and project implementation.

Dr. Chothani got in touch with Dr. M.N. Menon, Head (MPEP) in Indian Dairy Corporation (IDC) and our very first joint visit to Jalgaon was arranged within a week, after which I was to continue to be in Jalgaon.

Now about the dairy scenario that existed in Jalgaon at the time of our visit. The district had many DCSs engaged in milk collection but following a traditional pattern wherein average per litre price was worked our at the end of payment period of ten days. In other words their business was run with all the losses uploaded on farmers.

The district had 13 Talukas out of which 7 had Taluka Milk Unions that collected milk from member DCSs and supplied it to Govt. Milk Scheme, Dhulia /Chalisgaon. Each of the Taluka Unions collected on an average three or four thousand liters of milk per day and could hardly be called viable.

But they had established an identity and were ore of a political entity. Our job was to reverse the system at the DCS so as to assure payment to the farmer on the basis of quality at the time of milk collection and run the system profitably thereafter.

Equally important was to federate all the DCS in the district into what would be called The Jalgaon District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union that would own and run the Feeder Balancing Dairy (FBD) being established at Jalgaon. The civil work for a new FBD to handle 1 lakh liters of milk per day had already been initiated by NDDB and the site for a milk chilling centre also selected in the eastern part of the district.

The Govt.of Maharashtra had initially decided to establish the Feeder Balancing Dairy in an arrangement with NDDB and hand over the same to the Jalgaon District Milk Producers Union at a future date. However, since the dairy cooperatives existed in Jalgaon the local politicians took initiative and had already formed such a District Milk Union in anticipation taking over the dairy when built.

The State Govt. had agreed for the initiative to form the union and the first Board of Directors were nominated with one local MLA as Chairman and 12 Directors representing each Taluka and in addition representatives of the State Government, NDDB and IDC. A project cell of five officers has also been recruited by the Jalgaon Milk Union.

Our stay at Jalgaon was arranged in a hotel called Morako Hotel. The officials had also planned a program of field visits spread over two days. By the end of it Dr. Menon, Dr. Chothani and myself got fair idea of the work that was going on under the traditional pattern. Based on our observations these senior officers also gave me valuable tips which would be useful for my future activities.

After the field visits we all assembled for a meeting that was convened by the Chairman of Jalgaon Milk Union.

It could be called a meeting of the Board of Directors specially convened to meet the NDDB/IDC officials and deliberate on future activities and role perceptions. We received bouquets and few Directors gave welcome speeches and also talked about their expectations.

The Chairman, however, was silent and kept a balanced approach. He gave full freedom of expression to the Directors. We felt there was a competition amongst Directors and each one wanted that the NDDB Team should begin activity in his Taluka first. Dr. Chothani appreciated this but told very frankly that the final decision would be taken by the Team Leader at an appropriate time and not now.

Then came a terrible suggestion. One Director said that all the Directors knew the topography of their respective Taluka so well that the NDDB team would never know it. Therefore, he said that the NDDB Team Leader should take directives from the respective Director of that Taluka before approaching any village there.

The Chairman kept silence over that suggestion and looked at Dr. Chothani for his reply. Dr. Chothani was smoking a cigarette up till now. Listening to that suggestion he lost his cool.

Dr Chothani lays down the rules of engagement

He had understood the politics behind that suggestion. He extinguished his cigarette in the ash tray on the table.

With angry eyes he said, “ To answer you Sir, let me make it very clear that if the NDDB Team Leader was to report to any one person in entire India then that person will be Dr. A. A. Chothani sitting at Anand and nobody else. And I want to make it very clear that the Team would come here only on this precondition.”

That was a big jolt. Perhaps the Chairman never thought that the subject would blow up to that proportion. He was quick to intervene in the matter and the tension was diffused.

Then Dr. Chothani informed that he is leaving me -Dr. Naware- as Team Leader there and the other members of the SHT would join in due course with two Jeeps as project vehicles.

Same day in the evening Dr. Menon and Dr. Chothani left for Anand.
Before leaving Dr. Chothani gave me a briefing. “Dr. Naware, I want you to organize just one hundred Dairy Cooperative Societies here, but remember all of them should be economically viable.” He said.

Cooperative effort to form cooperatives of milk producers
Cooperative effort to form cooperative

I started field activity in Pachora taluka by conducting village level meetings. In about month’s time I covered all the villages and explained Anand Pattern in all the DCSs. I translated all registers and formats under Anand Pattern from Gujarati into Marathi and orders were placed for their printing. From Anand they placed orders for supply of Milk Testing Equipment which I received at Jalgaon and arranged for storage.

In May and June other members of the SHT came in batches and brought project vehicles along. Immediately our field activities intensified in Pachora taluka and on 1st July 74 all the DCSs there started supplying milk in the name of Jagaon Milk Union to Govt. Dairy and role of Pechora Taluka Union was over. In a lot of ten DCS on a milk route at a time, we arranged their switch-over to Anand Pattern and introduced milk testing for each producer with Pass Book entries.
The same cycle was continued in Bhadgaon Taluka which was adjacent. Simultaneously we arranged Farmers’ Induction Program and sent Chairmen of DCSs to visit Anand which created lot of enthusiasm and trust.

Now fast forward. Our SHT continued these activities for almost two years and covered villages in ten Talukas. The SHT had varying number of members from time to time. Dr. Chothani recruited many Apprentice Officers for FO Division and after short orientation in Amul Dairy they were straightway sent to Jalgaon. The SHT was supposed to train them further as they also helped in converting DCSs to Anand Pattern. At certain point the maximum number of employees in team reached to 23 plus we had some ten Graduate Extension Workers recruited locally. Many Apprentice Officers became Asstt. Eecutive on completion of one year at Jalgaon. By March 1976 the SHT had established over two hundred DCSs on Anand Pattern and the new FBD at Jalgaon had started processing milk. The necessary manpower was also recruited to run the FBD. Against the daily capacity of one lakh liters the FBD collected up to 73000 liters during first year itself.

Throughout my tenure as SHT Leader I represented NDDB and IDC ( two seats) on the Board of Directors of Jalgaon District Milk Union. I participated in all important matters and in recruitment of staff for FBD. I can say I enjoyed the confidence of number of Directors and more so when we started work in each one’s Taluka.

I had fully realized that all over the district there was divide on caste basis namely Maratha and Leva. The village and Taluka level institutions were dominated by one community or the other. Often you would see them coexisting peacefully but that was by an understanding and settlement. It was quite superficial. Still we had no problem as we established and demonstrated by our actions that we were totally impartial.

Political changes

In March 1976 a huge political change took place in State politics. V. P. Naik who was C.M. for two decades was replaced by S. B. Chavan. With this shift the Maratha lobby became very powerful and a new wave of leaders percolated all over the state and in all types of institutions including dairy cooperatives. The State Government replaced the Board of Directors of Jalgaon Milk Union with new nominations. The previous Chairman was no more there and a compromise candidate was nominated in his place. The district political boss of a certain party dominated the show with the new Chairman almost reporting to him.

Even in the new regime the field work of SHT continued without any direct interference. But somewhere in July or August I received a direct attack on me in the meeting of the Board of Directors. I had never expected it.

It so happened that when the Board was reviewing milk procurement activity one Director complained to the Chairman that the NDDB team had added a DCS on a milk route without consulting him. As he said this, one more Director raised objection in harsh words saying that the same thing has happened in his Taluka also. With these objections the atmosphere changed. The political boss who was conducting the meeting looked at me and suggested that I give explanation. That was my real examination I must say.

Reiteration of the original understanding and rules of engagement

I rose from my chair to address those guys many of whom were double than my age.

” At the outset ” I said ” I never expected that one day I will have to explain like this. Gentlemen, you know that we are organizing dairy societies in this district for last two years. Our working style has remained the same. Nothing new. Perhaps, for some of you it is new. Let me say that from the beginning till this day we have gone to your villages without any reservations of any kind. When we go to any village we look for only dairy animals and the milk producers residing there. To which breed or caste they belong to we never see. And our approach will never change till we are here. ” I said.

I had realized by then that the objection was taken because we had covered couple of villages where Leva Community was more in number. I continued my reply.

” As for the dairy societies for which objection is raised, I wish to inform you that by organizing DCS in these villages we solved their problem of surplus milk and in that process our Milk Routes which were already functional we reduced the cost of transportation. So when there are benefits for both the sides I simply don’t understand what is the problem? And further, so long as we are clear in our approach why there should be any necessity of consulting anybody and why his objection ? ” I asked.

As few Directors had continued to be there from the previous Board I asked them to recall what Dr. Chothani had said two years back before deploying SHT to Jalgaon.

They nodded in agreement.

With that explanation even the political boss could not counter me. The matter was over.

Source of strength

When I remember this episode I always remember Dr. Kurien and Dr. Chothani who really made us stronger on such issues with courage of conviction. Without their backing and support it would not have been possible for us to deliver results in the field. .

The withdrawal of SHT began shortly thereafter and I was the last person to return to Anand by the end of October 1976.

Contributed by Dr Mukund Naware NDDB 1972 – 1986. He spent five years in field and was in RO Bangalore, for more than eight years. He was also Manager (Procurement) for F& V Project, Mother Dairy, Delhi during 1985-1986.


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