The year 1991. I was still nine years away from leaving the National Dairy Development Board.
I had always thought that God willing I will retire and live in Anand till I breathe my last and be taken to Kailash Bhoomi for cremation. I had my former colleagues and friends in the great City, the Milk Capital of India, Anand.
I am still in touch with some of them. Though Corona and old age has taken a heavy toll and many dear ones left us.
Anand is the city where I got my first regular job. A place that not only gave me a job but a sense of purpose and a way of life to live attempting to do good for others.
I had moved out of the campus where I had lived from 1970 in the Chummery, now Guest House, Trainees Hostel as the first warden, D -12, C-10 and B-4.
I had moved out to my own house behind NDDB Campus near the Institute of Rural Management Main Gate. These twin houses with a common wall were built by my dear friend Behla and me. There were no buildings in that area of Mangalpura when we moved. That’s a separate story.
Those days I had dual responsibilities heading the Human Resources function in the Dairy Board and also looking after the Chairman’s Office.
It was Sunday and the office was closed. I received a call early morning around 6 AM from Dr Verghese Kurien our founder Chairman. It was rather unusual. He would normally come to office on Saturdays for an hour or two or when he had an appointment. But on a Sunday it was rare.
“Good Morning Sir”
“I am going to meet Devilalji our former deputy prime minister”
Dr Kurien mentioned the name of the village where Devilal Ji was staying the previous night. Some of you would recall that Devilal ji undertook a Chetna Yatra to awaken masses particularly rural people after his stint with the Government was over. This yatra was for over a year.
I would receive such calls from Saheb wherein he would not ask me to do anything but just inform me. I was supposed to understand and respond.
I said “Sir do you want me to come with you ?”
He said said “ Okay, but bring latest copies of NDDB and GCMMF Annual reports. I will send the car to pick you up from home. I said “No sir ask the driver to pick me up from office as I will go there to pick up the reports”
As planned the car arrived and I went to Dr Kuriens home and we both were driven to that village. I don’t remember the name of the village but it was off Borsad road.
When we arraigned at the farmers home where Chaudhry Devilal was staying I noticed the Chetna Rath; a bus. I went inside and announced that Dr Kurien is here to call on Devilal ji.
We were welcomed and taken inside the Rath. It was an air conditioned bus with the washroom towards the end. A large bed and couple of chairs plus the usual paraphernalia for storage of luggage e etc.
After a wait of about five minutes or so Chaudhry Saheb arrived. We got up and greeted him. By that time we had already been offered a glass of Lassi each. The Utterly Butterly Milkman wasn’t fond of milk or milk products and only used milk to whiten coffee. I had finished my glass of lassi.
Devilal ji requested the hosts to arrange for some coffee for Dr Kurien.
Now only we three were in the Rath. They both started talking. It was clear that my job was to be an interpreter.
Dr Kurien thanked Chaudhry Saheb for the help and support that NDDB, GCMMF and he received from Chaudhry Saheb while Devilal Ji held the Agriculture Ministry portfolio and Deputy Prime Ministership. Dr Kurien also explained how strong both the NDDB and GCCMMF have become over years serving the cause of farmers. Dr Kurien handed over to Chaudhry Saheb the NDDB and GCMMF Annual reports that I was carrying.
Now it was the turn of Devilal Ji to share the purpose of his undertaking Rath Yatra to awaken farmers. He shared reminiscences of his visit to China where he had been to villages and found the villages to be fully developed having all modern facilities. Devi Lal ji was carrying long sheets of papers in bundles which he showed us. These were lists of Class One Officers, Secretaries, Joint Secretaries, Ambassadors etc. Devilal ji pointed out that there are hardly any one among them who come from a rural background.
I was translating where necessary and found that they both were liking each other and conversing freely appreciating each other’s view point.
Dr Kurien said, “Sir, NDDB now has an asset base of Rs 3000 crores.” Devilal said “Balram Jakhar Teri Madad Karta hai? ( बलराम झाखड तेरी मदद करता है? Dr Kurien said “Yes Sir” and again started talking about the financial strengths of the organisations he headed. Devilal Ji was listening aptly but all of a sudden his voice boomed “ Yeh Paisa Teri Maut ka Karan Banega.” “यह पैसा तेरी मौत का कारण बनेगा).
I was stunned at the raw, straightforward statement coming from a farmer politician. I had the onerous talk of translating this. Dr Kurien was looking at me. Not that Dr Kurien did not understand Hindi at all. But this statement of Devilal Ji came so suddenly that like me he too was taken aback. I composed myself and translated it as “ Sir, Sir is saying that the asset base of NDDB will create problems for you.”
They continued to talk and after a some time DrKurien and I bid farewell to Devilal ji and headed back home.
I was thinking as to how NDDB assets will create problems for Dr Kurien. He did not take any salary from NDDB from 1965 till he left in 1998 and also stopped getting any remuneration except sitting fees and travel reimbursement etc. from GCMMF as he was then an honorary Chairman of both bodies.
That was 1991.
In 2022, some thirty two years later the Government of India now proposes to put a private sector representative on the board of NDDB. By amending the NDDB Act 37 of 1987 passed by the parliament to replicate Anand Pattern Cooperatives across the country.
Devilal Ji’s words reverberate in my minds ears … Yeh Paisa Teri Maut ka Karan Banega. यह पैसा तेरी मौत का कारण बनेगा ।
Dr Kurien lived all his life in Anand. Tirelessly worked against exploitation of farmers by private traders. Stalwarts like Sarvashi TK Patel, Morarji Bhai Desai, Babubhai Jasbhai Patel, Jaswant Lal Shah, Motibhai Chaudhry, Thiru Paramshivam and many many others were his mentors and supporters. I don’t recall all the names.
All the Prime Ministers right from Jawahar Lal Nehru , Lal Bahadur Shashtri, India Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Devegowda Ji, all supported the work that he was doing. Manmohan Singh hi, Bajpai Ji and Modi Ji have all supported the policy of cooperatives owned and commanded by producers of agricultural commodities.
True many at times in the past there were periods of opposition from bureaucrats, private operators and even “academics”. But NDDB stood United and if required there was intervention from highest level as it happened in 1983 when all the officers of NDDB resigned and the Govt set up a Committee under Shri LK Jha to suggest ways to strengthen NDDB and IDC. That report paved the way for the passage of the NDDB Act 37 of 1987.
Why, therefore, there is a hurry to bring about a change and put private sector representative on NDDB Board and all its subsidiaries. Why can’t a high powered committee look at the issues? If there has been some internal assessment why don’t they make the report public so that the rationale for doing what they propose to do is clear.
Very difficult to understand. There has been a petition going round in response to the Government’s offer asking for public comments. It has been started by BM Vyas and his former associate at GCMMF, Manu Kaushik. I have signed on it. The document can be accessed by clicking on this link.
Dr Kurien is no longer among us but his work, his teachings, his philosophy that was, is and will remain with us as long as farmers do not find their rightful place in nations economy. We all celebrated his birth centenary on 26 November. Glowing tributes were paid by his institutions and by the State and Central Government Ministers in public functions organised in Delhi Anand and several other cities in November 2021. Tinkering with an act in this casual manner is not a good sign.
Or as Devilal Ji said Yeh Paisa Teri Maut ka Karan Banega and the idea is to kill his philosophy too!
A better alternative could be, as a friend of mine wrote “ It would appear that NDDB has now become irrelevant, just as the Milk Marketing Board of UK, and must either be restructured to cover all agricultural commodities or simply dissolved.”
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