Before India liberalized its economy and before IT professionals made India matter in the world, the most successful story of the country was its achievement in the dairy sector. From huge dependence on imports of milk powder, India became self sufficient in milk and even started exporting significant amounts of milk powder and other milk products. Our milk production increased from 20 million tons in the ‘seventies to 80 million tons in the ‘nineties and 140 million tons now.
Who was responsible for this revolution? Surely the farmers produced the milk but the one person who more or less singlehandedly organized millions of small and marginal farmers into very successful organizations was Dr Verghese Kurien.
The cooperatives Dr Kurien organized on the basis of the Anand Pattern have been responsible for the increase in milk production. They run the entire gamut of milk production — collecting and paying for it twice a day, every day; processing this milk for marketing; and conserving the seasonal surpluses into milk powder. They have conclusively proved that cooperatives do work as democratic institutions in India.
Dr Kurien always emphasized that democracy in Delhi needs to be underpinned by democracy at the grassroots level in the villages. He told his detractors that he knew more than they didabout the limitations of the cooperatives, since he had worked for the cooperatives all his life and had great faith in the goodness and generosity of the rural people. He was a firm believer in the unmatched combination of farmers and professionals working together to serve the rural areas.
Before Dr Kurien came on the scene, the task of dairy development was being organized by the Milk Commissioners of the States. The Government Milk Schemes soon found that it was easierto use cheap imported milk powder to supply milk in the urban areas of the country than it was to pay higher prices for locally produced milk.
All these milk schemes like Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta began with good intentions. To start with they procured milk at the prevailing prices and sold at market prices. As producer prices rose, consumer prices needed to be raised. It was cheaper to bring in imported milk powder as it enabled the politicians to keep the urban prices low. As a result India became dependent on imported milk powder and the urban market was destroyed for the rural milk producers.
Also the Milk Commissioners had vested interests in the sector. Dr Kurien often stated that there were no Milk Commissioners in Denmark, the Netherlands and New Zealand but there was plenty of milk in those countries. His theory was that you could either have milk or Milk Commissioners. The Milk Commissioners in India opposed the setting up of cooperatives tooth and nail. While the Cooperative Commissioners welcomed the idea initially, they opposed it later as Dr Kurien did not want political interference in the working of these cooperatives. He often stated that the Registrar of Cooperatives was like God and the Minister in Charge of cooperatives liked being the boss of God.
An incident comes to mind: The Chief Minister (CM) of Rajasthan, Barkatullah Khan, did not agree on autonomy being given to the milk cooperatives as required under the Anand Pattern. He told Dr Kurien that Rajasthan farmers were not as capable of managing their businesses as Gujarat farmers. Dr Kurien then asked him as to how the CM was elected. The CM mentioned that he was elected from the Jodhpur Rural constituency. Dr Kurien then retorted by saying if these people were capable of electing their CM, how come they were unable to manage their own little milk business. That convinced the CM and he agreed to the Anand Pattern of Cooperatives.
Dr Kurien wanted major changes in the antiquated cooperative laws, which gave the executiveall powers to supersede cooperatives. When this matter went to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, she also questioned Dr Kurien on the capabilities of our farmers to manage big business. Dr Kurien is then reported to have told her that she was talking like the British who had said that they would give Indians their freedom when they were ready. Dr Kurien went to the extent of telling her that because of our desire to govern ourselves we had fought forindependence. If we wanted good governance then maybe we should call Lord Mountbatten back.
Dr Kurien was a missionary. He was fond of saying that for him replicating the Anand Pattern was a mission and like missionaries who know only one way to God, he would support all those who follow the Anand Pattern of Milk Cooperatives. Those who followed would reach God and those who kept on discussing (like many States did and are still debating) will keep on discussing. The results are there for all to see — States like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and some others did well. The others are still discussing.