The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, October 21, 2001

Why milk plan turned sour
Review by Sucha Singh Gill

Dairying and Farm Diversification
by Gurbhagwant Singh Kahlon. Punjab Institute of Sustainable Development, Ludhiana. Pages vii + 235. Rs 500

DIVERSIFICATION has been one of the most sought after solutions to the crisis of Punjab agriculture. The Johl committee, after looking into the various aspects of the emerging problems, suggested in May, 1986, several measures to achieve diversification as a solution to the non-sustainable cropping pattern in the state. After 15 years, this recommendation remains the most popular with policy-makers and the ruling elite in the state and the country.

In fact, in the present socio-economic and political structure, no alternative policy is being discussed. But it remains on paper despite regular assurances by politicians and bureaucrats. Agriculture is moving more and more away from diversification and towards wheat-paddy rotation. The areas, earlier growing cotton (south Punjab) are also moving towards paddy cultivation because of water logging. Thus, diversification remains a mirage. It is a puzzle why it has not taken off.


Gurbhagwat Singh Kahlonís book provides very useful clues to the question. Kahlon has life-long experience of improving dairying techniques and marketing milk and milk products. He was associated with dairying immediately after independence. He is credited with the successful launching of quality milk supply in Chandigarh when the city was made the capital of Punjab in 1953, setting up the first milk plant at Verka and in several other places in Punjab (and Haryana) both in the public and private sectors, dairy extension centres, promotion of research and introduction of an innovative marketing system through milk bars.

After superannuation in 1977 he developed a modern dairy complex, Madhani Milk Foods near Chuni Kalan village. His long experience makes him the most recognised expert on dairying and dairy development. Kahlon discusses two major concerns in this book. One, the people of this country must get a balanced diet. Milk and milk products can remove several deficiencies in the diet of the common people, provided quality milk is available at an affordable price. Two, milk producers must have access to modern development and must become commercial producers. To meet these objectives Kahlon presents a model already successfully tested at the Madhani complex.

Kahlon is against the Anand (Gujarat) pattern of dairying in which landless agricultural labourers and small and marginal farmers keep one or two milch animals as subsidiary occupation. According to him, "this pattern does not envisage scientific commercial milk production with highly productive milk animals in sizeable herds and, more especially, upgraded crossbred cows". This pattern resulted in the replacement of the Punjab Dairy Development Corporation by the Punjab Milk Producers Cooperative Federation (Milkfed) in 1983. He views Milkfed as "a sick organisation struggling for its own survival and existence, and is in no position to look into the problems and interests of milk producers, especially the weaker section of the rural population.

In view of the crisis in Punjab agriculture and the challenges posed by the WTO, Kahlon has given a call for action in the dairying sector as part of the diversification programme. He suggests that buffalo should be replaced by high yielding crossbred cows. At the same time he has proposed changes in the organisation of milk production and marketing. It is in this context that he was instrumental in establishing the Punjab Dairy Development Board in October, 2000, to free the dairy sector from the Anand pattern. Under this he suggests the establishment of satellite dairy farms. The proposed rural dairy development centres will be linked with a milk plant for providing assured market. One rural dairy development centre can cater to about 50 villages for producing quality milk.

In this scheme the thrust will be on establishing a large number of satellite farms. Each village will have at least 10 satellite farms with 10 or more crossbred cows for producing 100 litres or more a farm thereby achieving a target of 1000 litres in every village and the cluster producing 50,000 litres a day. A milk chilling centre can also be established. These centres have to be the pivot and focal points for providing such services as training, feed planning, health cover, breeding, genetics and other technical support.

For the successful working of this strategy at least one village in each group should be developed as a multi-farm centralised unit on panchayat land to utilise the collective strength of about a dozen farmers having 30 cross-bred cows each along with their calves. These multi-farms are designed on the Israeli pattern. Ultimately the purpose is to develop joint stock companies which can set up milk chilling plants.

This strategy was accepted by the Punjab Government and two dairy complexes were planned. One was to be developed at Kal Jharani village in Bathinda district and another at Padhari Kalan in Amritsar district. Chief Minister of Punjab Badal took keen interest in this idea for launching commercial dairying. He also led a delegation to Israel to gain first-hand knowledge.

However, these projects were hit by neglect and apathy after launching. While there was some progress at Kal Jharani, the one in Padhari Kalan was jinxed from the beginning. Ultimately both projects have been abandoned and declared nonviable.

Kahlon has quoted official papers which contain interesting details on the way the project has been virtually scuttled by the implementing agencies. Kahlon feels that political leadership and the administrative machinery are working at cross purposes. What the Chief Minister has proposed on the basis of expert opinion and an assessment of the project in Israel has been opposed by the unimaginative state apparatus....The official-pseudo expert nexus has become too entrenched and too powerful to be flexible and open to reason even in the face of support by the heavyweight Chief Minister.

Not only the implementation of the project was blocked, its cost was inflated by distorting the specifications and designs, purchase of inferior breed of cows (with two tits). Unfortunately instead of punishing those responsible for these violations, they remain firmly in their saddle.

The author finds a sharp contrast in implementing projects during the Pratap Singh Kairon days and now.

Even those projects close to the heart of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal are scuttled. Kahlon attributes the present situation to the "instrument of governance by inducting sycophancy, manipulation, intrigue where the ego has bloated into arrogance". He asks the Almighty "to save my state of Punjab and its enterprising people from its credulous, gullible rulers and some of the most Machiavellian manipulators in the state official hierarchy".

For the implementation of technically sound and viable projects there must be two preconditions. One, there must be political will to push through the projects. Two, a working and honest machinery should be in place. The book brings out clearly that these preconditions existed in earlier times and development took place at an accelerated pace. Now these are missing and there is deceleration in development. In the absence of these diversification of agriculture cannot take off even if it is carefully and meticulously planned by experts.

Kahlon makes a forceful plea to hurry up and launch technically sound proposals for dairy development as a (core) part of the larger programme of diversification of agriculture and economy of the state. The book provides a deep insight into the roots of sustained crisis of economy and governance in Punjab. It should be read by academicians and those who are running the affairs of the state.