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Plea to donors, DA purse to staff Dairies enter sick list

Calcutta, April 1: Having decided to overhaul its power and transport undertakings, the government has turned its attention to five dairies that are bleeding the state of Rs 60 crore every year.

The state is seeking about Rs 1,700 crore from an assortment of donors like the UK's department of international development (DFID), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank to fund early retirement and social security schemes for over 80,000 employees in 29 ailing PSUs.

The five dairies and 10 chilling plants under the dairy development directorate ' being considered one sick unit ' were included at the last minute in a list of PSUs submitted to the Centre yesterday for the second phase of the industrial restructuring exercise.

'We want to hand over the management of the dairies to the West Bengal Milk Producers Federation (a body of milk cooperatives) so that running them would be easier. Now, the dairies are part of the animal resources department. We have asked Nirupam Sen's industrial reconstruction department to find out how they can be made viable. We are offering early retirement schemes to employees... We can no longer afford such a heavy loss every year,' said animal resources development minister Anisur Rahman.

Central dairy at Belgachhia and four others at Haringhata, Krishnagar, Burdwan and Durgapur collectively employ about 5,000 people. The government spends Rs 42 crore on the salary of staff at the five units every year while another Rs 18 crore goes into operations. The chilling plants in Burdwan, Nadia and North 24-Parganas, used to store raw milk collected from village-level cooperatives, employ about 80 people.

The dairy in Burdwan is shut since last May. The rest, which have a daily production capacity of 4.5 lakh litres, produce around 80,000 litres.

This when rivals Mother Dairy and Metro Dairy produce 4 lakh and 2.5 lakh litres everyday. Amul, which launched milk in the retail market last December, has already grabbed a major share of the pie and sells over a lakh litres a day.

'Dairying is a commercial operation and when there is so much competition already, the government is thinking whether it should pull out of the sector and save money,' said a senior official.

Public enterprises and industrial reconstruction secretary Sunil Mitra placed a concept paper featuring the 29 units before the Union ministries of finance and public enterprises yesterday.

'We're looking for donors outside the DFID as transport and power units will require loans to fund modernisation and capacity building,' a public enterprises official said.

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