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Talks with Amul to milk dairies

Calcutta, Feb. 15: The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government may try 'the taste of India' to breathe new life into state-owned dairies struggling to stay on their feet.

'Amul has already made a market for itself in our state. The company now wants its own set-up here. As for our dairies, none of them are utilised to capacity. Amul is welcome to take up our plants and modernise them to augment production,' animal resources minister Anisur Rahman said at Writers' Buildings.

He spoke to Amul officials yesterday, Rahman added.

The government incurs an annual loss of about Rs 42 crore from the dairies at Belgachhia, Haringhata, Krishnagar, Burdwan and Durgapur, primarily on account of salaries for 5,500 employees. The government pays salary to the tune of Rs 45 crore every year to the staff at the five units.

Amul, whose punch-line reads 'the taste of India', launched milk in the retail market last December and already sells nearly a lakh litres everyday.

In January, Mother Dairy and Metro Dairy announced a 50-paise slash in double-toned and single-toned milk prices in a bid to take on Amul. 'But the Gujarat-based milk cooperative seems to be winning with aggressive marketing ' discounts to customers and attractive commissions to dealers,' said a government official.

The dairy in Burdwan is closed since last May. The others, which have a capacity to process 4.5 lakh litres of milk daily, only produce 1.5 lakh litres.

The minister asserted that Amul would not be allowed to retrench employees from the dairies, but his announcement has already raised hackles.

'We know the government is losing money in running the dairies. Modernisation is welcome, but only if the government remains at the helm. We will oppose any move to privatise the dairies or to go into a joint venture,' said Benoy Ghosh, general secretary of the Dairy Development and Animal Husbandry Workers' Union.

Rahman also said an Aligarh-based company has expressed interest in setting up a Rs 20-crore unit in the department's unused land at Salboni, West Midnapore. 'They want to breed and rear goats and buffaloes. We can either go into joint venture or lease the land out,' the minister said.

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