Feast of Memories -9

Dr. Madhavan shares his reminiscences in a series of articles. He has named these memoirs as “Feast of Memories”. He shares some interesting incidents that happened during the time cooperatives were being organised in the villages of Erode.
Take over Nilgiri Dairy

As the days passed, the Spearhead Team organised several cooperatives, covering most of the potential villages from where Nilgiri Dairy Farm (NDF) and other private agencies procured milk. We intensified our extension activities and educated the farmers: how the private sector operated and exploited the producers.

The private sector made huge profits and flourished at the expense of the farmers and the farmers’ condition got deteriorated day by day. The Anand Pattern cooperatives started collecting a major share of the milk in these villages which adversely affected the milk collection of NDF and others.

The small players closed their business, but the large ones resisted as they had the resources to withstand competition. But, the business was no longer lucrative and easy going as it used to be and all of them started incurring losses as a result of milk collection dropping drastically.

When the competition became very tough and difficult to stand, Mr Raja, Proprietor of NDF wrote to Dr V Kurien, Chairman, NDDB for help. The first para of the letter was all about the NDF and the phenomenal progress it had made over the years (established in 1905). The letter further said that their dairy at Erode had been handling good quantity of milk, collected from nearby villages. The farmers were greatly benefited and the milk production had also gone up. Mr Raja wrote further that he had harmonious relationship and excellent cooperation with the TNDDC Dairy at Erode and the staff. He then referred to the team that the NDDB had placed in Erode and its activities.

He regretted that the Team had resorted to maligning the reputation of the NDF by telling the farmers that we were exploiting them by purchasing milk at very low prices and were making huge profits, at their cost. Mr Raja failed to understand why the Team had resorted to such propaganda, especially when he had such a harmonious relationship with TNDDC. He stated that it will be suicidal to the vital dairy industry if the Team continued its activities in Erode. He urged the Chairman, NDDB to withdraw the Team from Erode immediately.

Chairman, NDDB replied the letter stating that there appeared to be some misgivings on the activities of the Spearhead Team and requested Mr Raja to meet the Team Leader at Erode and sort it out. A copy of the Chairman’s letter was endorsed to the Team Leader. 

After receiving Dr Kurien’s letter, Mr Raja met me in the Team’s office. As I had known Mr Raja earlier, no introduction was necessary. At the outset, Mr Raja apologised for writing to Dr Kurien asking for the withdrawal of the Team from Erode. I told him that I didn’t feel bad at all because his letter was only an appreciation of the good work done and there couldn’t had been a better tribute to the Team’s work than his letter.

He told me that his business had been very badly affected because the milk collection had come down drastically and that he was finding it difficult to compete with the cooperatives. He had incurred heavy losses and further continuance wouldn’t be advisable. He offered his dairy for sale and asked NDDB to buy it. I told him that NDDB had plans to set up a 100,000 litre dairy with a ten tone powder plant at Erode. Therefore, taking over his dairy which was of a smaller capacity (20,000 litres) would be of no use to the project. I advised him not to take any hasty decision and that he should stay in business as competition would be encouraging to the cooperatives.

Mr Raja left my office with a sad face, but we continued our friendship.

Milk producers cooperative society formation at Pandiampalayam village

On our first visit to Pandiampalayam village, the farmers were reluctant to assemble at a common place to talk about formation of a cooperative. Therefore, we decided to visit them at their houses. At all the houses we visited, we got a common reply: “Please talk to him and we will abide by whatever decision he takes”, pointing at a picture prominently displayed on the wall. The same picture we saw at all the houses. The picture was that of a man sporting a scorpion moustache, with a horrifying look. We thought the picture might be that of a “Guru” worshipped by the farmers. Surprisingly, no one was prepared to tell his name. All the farmers we visited had the same picture hung on the wall of their houses. We felt there was no point in visiting any more farmers and we decided to look up the man in the picture.

When we met him and we told him about formation of a cooperative in his village, he said that he had heard about this cooperative and also visited one close to his village. He was much impressed and was planning to meet us in our office to request us to form a cooperative in his village. When we told him about convening a meeting of all farmers to talk about the cooperative, he said there was no need and that the farmers will obey what he said. He gave us the amount required for forming the cooperative with a list of the farmers and asked us to form the cooperative.

Later, we came to know that this man was one “Amasigounder”, who had committed four murders and got convicted. He was just back from the jail. He was a terror in that village and all the farmers were afraid of him. We thought that the only way to organise a society in that village was through Amasigounder.

We started the society with the blessings of Amasigounder. He virtually controlled the society by suppressing all the farmers. We geared up our extension work and started educating the farmers through a door to door approach. Initially, the farmers were reluctant to talk to us but gradually they opened up. We explained to them the working of the cooperative, the duties and responsibilities of the members and their rights in the society. The farmers got enlightened and slowly started taking interest in the working of the cooperative. At the same time, we kept Amasigounder in good spirits. He didn’t realise the implication of our educating the farmers.

Soon, the time came for election of the Management Committee and the President of the society. Amasigounder was confident that all the members will support him and he will get elected as the President, unopposed. But, it didn’t happen.

Amasigounder lost the election! The farmers started managing the cooperative in the real cooperative spirit! Amasigounder was unhappy with the Team, but later he reconciled to the change and accepted it. The important thing was that all through, we had kept Amasigounder in good humour and in confidence. It was a fact that without his support and blessing, it was impossible to form a cooperative in Pandiampalayam. But, the “battle” turned out to be a win-win situation!

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