Politics behind Maharashtra's milk strike

The milk producers agitation in Maharashtra remains unresolved. The state-wide milk bandh in the last week of June, demanding a price hike for buffalo milk, has brought to the fore a politically vexed milk cooperative system and an apathetic administration.

Apart from western Maharashtra's Kolhapur and Sangli districts -- stronghold of the milk producers cooperatives -- the four-day bandh has hit the milk supply in Mumbai and Pune also.

The strike was tentatively called off on July 1 with the authorities assuring the protesters of setting up a committee to look into the issue. State home minister R R Patil said a committee will be formed which, within three weeks, will submit recommendations.
White issues The farmers demand Rs 18 per litre for buffalo milk -- Rs 6 more than the current rate. The current market rate for a litre of milk in Mumbai is Rs 25 per litre.

In the state, milk is priced based on its fat content.The procurement rate for the milk is Rs 2.14 per fat percentage. This means, one litre of milk which has six fat percentage gets Rs 12.80. The farmers say this doesnt meet the production cost.

According to the milk producers associations, their repeated pleas were rejected by the state administration. Last month, chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh had assured the milk producers that the state would take a decision by June 26. But the state minister for milk production and development, Anis Ahmed, later ruled out the hike, which culminated in the fourday bandh by Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana (sss), an farmers collective in western Maharashtra.

Prakash Patil of sss says the current system undervalues the efforts of the people involved in agriculture and animal husbandry. What we get is even less than the price of a litre of mineral water. Why should we sell our produce at such a low price? asks Dilip More, a farmer from Pargaon village in Kolhapur. The prices of other commodities have increased since 1998. But we never had the privilege. The standard of living of the farmers has remained unchanged throughout decades. Their work has now become uneconomical. Heavy floods in the region also resulted in huge losses for them, says Vijay Kulkarni, another farmer.
Wrong movement Big milk co-operative societies like the Kolhapur Zilla Sahakari Dudh Utpadak Sangh (Gokul dairy) have a strong presence in south-western Maharashtra, with a major share in the market. They are not in favour of a price hike. We give the maximum to them. We cant offer higher purchase rate without an increase in the sale price of milk. If we do so, competitors will capture the market, says the chairperson of Gokul dairy, Rajkumar Hattaraki. But the milk producers say the rate can be hiked without increasing the sale price. They say that politicisation and mismanagement have damaged the strong co-operative system.

According to Raju Shetti, an mla and founder of sss, the politics in the functioning of the milk co-operatives has undermined the strong movement. "There is no transparency in the way the farmers' money is managed. The politicians controlling the co-operatives have undermined the people's demands," he says. Moreover, he adds, few milk producers have a say in the functioning of these bodies. For example, he says, of the 5,42,909 milk producers supplying milk to Gokul dairy, only 2,600 can elect the board of directors.

Farmers say they are not hopeful of the new committee. Since 1956, the state government has set up a few committees on this.All of themthe Devtale committee in 1972, the Nilangekar committee in 1984 and the Radhakrishna-Vikhe Patil committee in 2005said the milk producers should get at least 60 per cent of the market price and the prices should be regularly monitored. But the government did not implement the recommendations. "The problems with the co-operative can be corrected. To meet this end, the movement needs more strength," says Chandrashekhar Matade, a journalist.