By RK Nagar
Whereas NDDB had hard time pursuing states to accept even one project to create an ‘Anand’, under Operation Flood -I the story was different when it came to Operation Flood -II.
Politicians now wanted their constituency included under OF-II. Two notable requests were from Kamalnath, the member of parliament from Chhindwara, MP and the other was from a Minister of Maharashtra representing Ratnagiri constituency.
I am not sure if Mrs. Sharda Mukherjee, the then governor of Gujarat who hailed from Ratnagiri got a wind of the Minister’s request or it was her own initiative-call it love for her birth place- that drew her to visit Anand and make a request for inclusion of Ratnagiri under OF-II.
She made a very passionate plea to Dr. Kurien. But there was no way he was going to easily agree even to send a team to look at the district. Dr. Kurien tried to explain to her that we have to choose 100 milksheds across India that offer the best potential for Dairy Development and that could at best mean about 120 districts out of almost 580 districts that the country then had.
On her insistence that milk can indeed be produced in Ratnagiri and that a district cooperative union will be economically viable, Dr. Kurien agreed to send a team to look at the potential. Pointing at me he said, “I will send this fellow, he will count the cows and then we will see what can be done.
If he says a viable dairy project is feasible, we will include Ratnagiri under OF-II. He then added we will see what else is possible there and since it is a coastal district, we will look at the fisheries potential as well.
Dr. Kurien’s idea was that if not milk, some other project can be done, especially fisheries as NDDB had, around the same time agreed to build a fish freezing plant for the government of Goa.
Just before the meeting was about to conclude, Dr. Kurien asked Mrs. Mukherjee her help in growing “Alphonso’ mangoes in Kheda district. “Madam, that will greatly help increase our farmers income here. Amul will handle both-milk and Alphonso mangoes”. “Will you help us”, he added.
She was obviously unprepared for this bizarre request. “Dr. Kurien, it requires a specific climate and soil to grow Alphonso mangoes. They just can’t be grown everywhere. Valsad Alphonso mangoes are not the same quality and flavour as Ratnagiri mangoes. How can you even think of growing then here in Kheda”?
“Madam, we will try to grow mangoes here as sincerely as we try to produce milk in Ratnagiri” was his cool reply.
Mrs. Mukherjee smiled, gave an intense look to Dr. Kurien and prepared to leave.
She knew she had asked for something totally infeasible.
But the story didn’t end here.
We had to respond to the Maharashtra Minister. On his insistence, it was decided to send a team. The minister took the responsibility to make all arrangements for the NDDB team’s travel and stay once we reached Bombay en route Goa, from where we were to drive to Sawantwadi, then cover the entire district and finally land back in Bombay for a meeting with the Minister.
Since we were to consider options other than dairy, the 4 member team included besides me, NK Saxena, our fisheries expert, SC Sharma, the sociologist and Dr. VD Pradhan, the animal husbandry specialist.
As expected, the district didn’t offer much potential for Dairy Development. Low productivity animals, poor road infrastructure to transport milk, very low ratio of cultivated land to total land and total disinterest of farmers in cattle keeping were the key factors.
It turned out that the population consisted predominantly of children and senior citizens with most able bodied young men and women having migrated to Mumbai and other big cities within the state in search of work. They returned to Ratnagiri only during the time of auction of mango crop.
But having spent a week and enjoying the hospitality of the government of Maharashtra, especially the Minister , we had to make some recommendations.
And this had to be anything other than a dairy project.
So, based on our observations and the secondary data, we decided to recommend a food processing project based on the most commonly grown trees/shrubs that yielded raw material for value addition. One of the main crops was cashew apples besides Kokum, Karonda, Jackfruit and of course, mangoes that were not considered suitable for export/ sale as fresh fruit.
Our recommendation included utilisation of the most abundantly available produce that added least value to the farmers-the cashew apple. And the best way to utilise it was to convert cashew apple juice into alcohol for human consumption and its sale as a branded high value product.
When we sent the draft report to Dr. Kurien, I suspected that the team will be called and given a thorough dressing down for this outrageous recommendation. I therefore warned the team of this possibility and told them that if such a meeting does take place with all of us in, when the dressing down is given it would be for me and none of you. So you shouldn’t get scared.
I was called alone for the meeting- good that the dressing down would be like a private affair. May be Dr. Kurien doesn’t want to embarrass me in presence of my colleagues, I thought.
As I entered his office, he pointed out at the recommendation in the report summary and asked, “Do you want to redefine the mandate of NDDB? You are recommending a farmers Cooperative that will make alcohol for human consumption. Are you nuts”?
I replied, “Sir as there is hardly any potential for Dairy Development, we thought of making a project based on tree crops that the farmers already grow. We have only added those elements that will add value to their existing produce as raw material base and increase their incomes without large investment or labour requirements.
It just fits-in in their present situation. Cashew apples are even currently converted into alcohol by small operators who collect them from cashew farmers virtually for free. If their Cooperative does it, it will add value for all the cashew growers”.
His stern look soon changed into a smile. “So, this is a professional recommendation. Ok, keep it” and he handed the draft report back to me.
The recommendation was retained in the final report.
At least for that one project we did become the ‘Daru Development Board’.