The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Milkman, ex-acolyte locked in co-op duel

New Delhi, Feb. 8: It’s a duel between two leading co-ops (or shall we say corporate') citizens.

He is the father of the White Revolution in India, 81, and the ex-chairman of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). She has worked under him for about three decades and is presently the chairman of NDDB and is due to retire after about eight months.

The battle is being fought so far in front of the media, but one that can be soon be taken to courts, said V. Kurien, who is at present the chairman of the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF).

The ‘milkman is opposing NDDB’s programme to enter into a joint venture to market milk and milk products with various state milk federations across the country, through a marketing company Mother Dairy Foods Ltd which, in turn, is promoted by the NDDB subsidiary, Mother Dairy Fruits and Vegetables Ltd.

Kurien said, “I am not against any joint venture that any co-operative wants to enter but majority shareholding should be retained with the co-operatives.”

On her part, Amrita Patel, the present chairman of NDDB, defends the shareholding pattern of 51:49 in MDFL’s favour “so that the board in its role of a developmental body can be in the driver’s seat, rather than the state governments.”

“What we call co-operatives are at the state level and are just government bodies, often headed by a bureaucrat or a minister. They do not have marketing expertise which we want to bring in,” said Patel.

Daughter of former finance minister H.M. Patel, she joined NDDB as a veterinarian and grew through the ranks.

NDDB has already signed a joint venture with the government of Kerala a couple of months back and similar JVs with other states are in the pipeline. “Profit in the JV, after deducting expenses, will go to the farmers and not NDDB’s coffers,” clarified Patel.

Kurien, who feels that the signing of the JVs tantamounts to “bureaucratisation” of the state co-operatives, said, “The signing of such joint ventures show that government is showing no confidence in co-operatives.”

While Patel said she had kept Kurien briefed about the joint venture proposals and has spoken to him about the issue in the past, Kurien said she has not and he has also not approached her.

“As my junior, she should first come to me to discuss the issue,” he said.

Kurien went so far as to say that while he was an honorary chairman of NDDB, with a clear brief given by Lal Bahadur Shastri to replicate the Anand model all over India, which he did, he feels that his successor, who is paid by the government, is putting the organisation’s interest before the farmers and the co-operative principles.

Patel maintains that the NDDB Act has provisions for such joint venture companies that it is planning to form. However, Kurien feels “the key risk in the JV model is that it takes away the marketing function from the producers converting them into mere suppliers of milk.”

Kurien also brushes aside the NDDB suggestion that GCMMF is opposed to the JVs on the same grounds as a corporate group reacts to competition.

A GCCMF spokesperson said, “GCCMF (whose flagship brand is Amul) is not threatened by competition from Mother Dairy. After all, we have successfully fought against MNC brands like Nestle and Britannia.

Kurien said that before exploiting legal options, he will like to meet the agriculture minister, the co-operation minister and even the Prime Minister on the JV issue.

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