Fearless Karamyogi

Dr RP Aneja

~ Former Managing Director NDDB and Director and Professor Emeritus Institute of Rural Management, Anand

Dr Kurien was a fearless karmyogi and he never asked for anything for himself. I recall when Jagjivan Ram wanted a private dairy to be funded under Operation Flood (OF), Dr Kurien’s blunt reply was that it could not be done. Surely the Minister had wanted him to be sacked but could not because of the Prime Minister’s support for Dr Kurien.

Dr Kurien was blunt with the bureaucrats as well. Early in the implementation of OF, PN Haksar,a Member of the Planning Commission, asked as to why the project was not being implemented speedily. Dr Kurien’s reply was that the delay was because of him. Haksar was taken aback and wanted Dr Kurien to explain. Dr Kurien then mentioned that the approval for the setting up of the Mother Dairy in Delhi had been pending with the Planning Commission for a long time.

Haksar then asked for the concerned Joint Secretary to explain the delay. The Joint Secretary stated that he had some questions on the subject, like the use of stainless steel in the milk tanks at the bulk vending machines. At that time steel was being imported and we were short of foreign exchange. Dr Kurien then told the Joint Secretary that if he had questions why did he not ask? We have a postal system. He could have picked up the phone and asked. What had stopped him from asking these questions?

Dr Kurien then asked him the Planning Commission did not object to the use of stainless steel in the toilets in the Indian Railways. Why was he objecting to its use in milk booths now?

Dr Kurien then informed him that the tanks in question were to be made of fiberglass reinforced plastic. The Joint Secretary had not read the report. Dr Kurien then went on to question him if he was the Joint Secretary or the disjointed secretary. The project got cleared the same day.

Dr Kurien was just as blunt with the politicians. The Minister of Civil Supplies in the early ’eighties, V C Shukla, was withholding approval for NDDB’s Vegetable Oil and Oilseeds Project. The same minister’s staff had telephoned the General Manager of the Mother Dairy in Delhi to take back a driver who had been dismissed in a disciplinary case. Dr Kurien met the minister and explained to him as to how the project in question would make India self-sufficient in edible oils on the lines of the milk project. The minister did not seem to be interested in Dr Kurien’s explanation and nonchalantly told him to leave the proposal and he would go through it. Dr Kurien then asked him if there was anything on the minister’s mind, hoping the minister would raise the question of the dismissed driver. The minister did not say anything. 

Dr Kurien then asked him the Planning Commission did not object to the use of stainless steel in the toilets in the Indian Railways. Why was he objecting to its use in milk booths now?

Dr Kurien then said, “Sir there is this question of a driver that you want to be taken back. Before I came to you I explained to the General Manager of the Mother Dairy that we need your approval to this Rs 300 crore project.”

“So why can you not take this driver back?”

Dr Kurien’s reply was that the driver in question was dismissed on serious charges. He went to the court and lost his case. He said, “If I take him back, I will lose the moral authority to run the Mother Dairy. My staff expects me to support them and that driver will not be taken back. You can now do whatever you want with the proposal before or after reading it.”

The minister was taken aback and slumped in his chair and said, “So what they say about you is true. I will support you but you will have to pay a price”.

Dr Kurien quipped back, “What is the price, Sir”? 

The minister said, “You will have to help me manage the Asian Games”. 

The next day we were at the Management Committee meeting of the Asian Games and I recall Eswaran, the then Finance Secretary, asking Dr Kurien as to what he was he doing at the meeting. Dr Kurien replied, “Maybe you have to drink milk to jump higher and run faster”. 

The Minister did support the oilseeds project.


Persuasive Powers

Dr RP Aneja

~ Former Managing Director NDDB and Director and Professor Emeritus Institute of Rural Management, Anand


There never was and never will be another Verghese Kurien who reigned like a Colossus over the dairy industry of India for over 50 years. He had the authority to rule over the industry because of his intense knowledge of the sector, his faith in the capacity of the rural milk producers and his selfless dedication to their cause. This was further strengthened by his persuasive powers to mobilize professionals from all walks of life to devote themselves to the noble cause of alleviating rural poverty. He used his immense charm to muster the support of policy makers as their contribution to this noble cause.

I first met Dr Kurien in 1957 when I was a trainee at the Amul Dairy at Anand in 1957. One late evening I ran into him at the gate of the dairy plant while he was waiting for a local politician to arrive so that he could show him the Amul Dairy. He enquired about our in-plant training and told me that he was waiting for a politician who wanted to see the dairy at that late hour before he boarded the Saurashtra Janata Express at Anand as he wanted to see as to how this dairy was helping the poor milk producers. Much later, Dr Kurien would often quote Jawahar Lal Nehru: “We were ordinary people and it was the nobility of the cause (fighting for the freedom of India) that rubbed on us and people thought that we were great, while we were ordinary people”. I was terribly impressed by Dr Kurien’s personality and charm.

A year later he was our examiner on dairy engineering and gave us all an assignment to draw a plan for a rural dairy plant. I had fever and therefore I finished the assignment as quickly as I could, handed over the assignment and went back to the hostel. I was later called back to the examination hall and Dr Kurien pointed out several flaws in my drawing. I was worried until he mentioned to the internal examiner, Sinha, that mine was the best drawing.

In the early 1960s, Amul Dairy was one of the many ways the dairy industry was being developed. Amul grew and evolved as a result of the professionalism of Dr Kurien and the political leadership of Tribhuvandas Patel who was its founder chairman. It was Tribhuvandas Patel who went to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to seek relief from the unjust order of the MIlk Commissioner of Bombay State that gave Polson Dairy the monopoly right to collect milk from 19 villages around Anand. Sardar Patel then sent Morarji Desai to organize the milk strike that led to the formation of the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union Ltd (Amul Dairy). Tribhuvandas Patel and Dr Kurien were jointly awarded the Ramon Magsaysay award in 1963 for ‘Community Leadership’ for the path-breaking effort to organize dairy farmers into a viable cooperative.

When Dr Kurien needed some initial funds to set up NDDB, it was Amul Dairy under the Chairmanship of Tribhuvandas Patel that provided the initial grant to set up the NDDB campus at Anand. We were fortunate to be at the foundation laying ceremony of the NDDB campus byTribhuvandas Patel. A mouse appeared from the pit that was dug up for the purpose at the NDDB campus and Tribhuvandas Patel observed that a similar incident had taken place when the Amul Dairy foundation was laid by President Rajendra Prasad. The significance was explained by Tribhuvandas Patel that this was a great blessing and Amul never stopped growing. He wished the same for NDDB.

Till then Milk Colony Model based on Khurody’s Aarey Milk Colony had been replicated at Kolkata and Chennai. The Delhi Milk Scheme had started a new trend in large government milk supply schemes. There were also the private dairies concentrating on luxury milk products. The government milk schemes had virtually started a vicious dairy development cycle by resorting to the use of cheap (dumped) imported milk powder that was destroying the urban milk markets for the rural milk producers. When we learnt dairying at Karnal, the teachers would tell us that since the demand for milk was more or less constant throughout the year, we must produce constant supply of milk throughout the year by producing more milk in summer.

Dr Kurien had already realized that the surplus milk produced in winter that could be used in summer by conserving it as milk powder and that we should encourage more milk production even in winter since it was the time that farmers had more crop residues and natural herbage. That led to a much better model for dairy development, one which could flood the cities with rurally produced milk instead of India being dependent on imported cheap milk powder that wasimpinging on the growth of rural milk production. The era of milk colonies and government run dairies was over and a new king had arrived. It started with the fall of Delhi Milk Scheme which had run into serious managerial troubles. The Agriculture Minister, C Subramaniam, appointed a committee under Dr Kurien to look into the revamping of DMS. The committee took this opportunity to encourage the Government to relook at the way the sector was being developed. The setting up of the NDDB with most of its members from this Committee indicated the arrival of a new strategy for dairy development.

I joined the NDDB when I was told that its mission was to replicate the Anand model. Dr Michael Halse, who had impressed me at the courses that I attended at IIM Ahmedabad, had himself switched over to the NDDB. I was convinced that replicating the success of Amul Dairy was the way India should be going. Dr Kurien gave me whatever I wanted to join the NDDB and that started a fairy tale for me to work closely with Dr Kurien.

In 1972, I resigned from the NDDB following some false stories being carried to Dr Kurien. Heasked me the reason for my leaving and I explained to him how I was disappointed in his listening to all kinds of stories. I told him some plain truths in a most rustic manner as I thought it was a mere exit interview and that he could do nothing to me. Dr Kurien showed that he was a big man and he could take honest criticism. He asked me to repeat the story (and the choice of words that I had used) at the meeting of the Board of NDDB that was being held at that time. I did exactly that and after that he asked the members of the Board to let me go to Canada on study leave and that he wanted me back. He also told the Board that I need not sign any bond to return as he trusted my word. That made me come back.