MAHA: AIKS Leads Milk Farmers Struggle
Ashok Dhawale, Ajit Nawale
ON August 1, 2020, the milk farmers struggle led by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and the Milk Producing Farmers Struggle Committee was intensified all over Maharashtra with the participation of thousands of farmers in around 50 tehsils of 20 districts. The first phase of this struggle began on July 20 in Ahmednagar and some other districts. The state dairy development minister Sunil Kedar organised an online meeting of farmer leaders and milk companies on July 21 at which the AIKS was represented, but nothing came of it.
The AIKS took the lead among all farmers’ bodies in this struggle, and this was clearly stated in its report by the largest-selling state daily among farmers, ‘Agrowon’ of the ‘Sakal’ group. The ‘Agrowon’ report noted that it was only after the AIKS took the lead on the milk price issue that other farmers’ organisations, and including the BJP, also joined the fray. The AIKS has brought some farmers’ organisations together to form the above struggle committee and has been consistently fighting on the issue of milk for the last three years.
Milk prices to farmers have plummeted from Rs 30 per litre for cow milk before the lockdown to Rs 17 per litre now, whereas cow milk continues to be sold to consumers at Rs 48 per litre. This has adversely affected lakhs of milk farmers in Maharashtra. The amount of milk, both cow and buffalo, collected daily in Maharashtra, is 1 crore 30 lakh litres. Of this, about 65 lakh litres is sold as pouched milk, and the remaining is turned into powder.
Last year, the AIKS had led a similar struggle for remunerative milk price by distributing milk free to poor children for 15 days continuously, under the slogan, “Why are you looting us? Take our milk for free!” But this had very little effect on the thick-skinned central and state governments. That is why the AIKS was forced to resort to the form of ‘abhishek’.
The AIKS struggle on August 1 covered districts in regions all over the state. They included Ahmednagar, Pune, Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur and Solapur in Western Maharashtra; Thane and Palghar in Konkan; Nashik in Northern Maharashtra; Wardha, Amravati and Buldana in Vidarbha; Aurangabad, Jalna, Parbhani, Nanded and Beed in Marathwada. In many of these districts, the struggle was conducted in several tehsils.
The struggle was led at various places by AIKS national president Ashok Dhawale, state general secretary Ajit Nawale, state treasurer Umesh Deshmukh, CITU state secretary and CPI(M) MLA Vinod Nikole, AIKS state office bearers Ratan Budhar, Barkya Mangat, Sidhappa Kalshetty, Shankar Sidam, Uddhav Poul, Sunil Malusare, Manik Awaghade and many other AIKS state and district council members, and also AIDWA, DYFI and SFI leaders.
The response of the state government was to lodge police cases against Ajit Nawale and 50 other farmer leaders of the Milk Producing Farmers Struggle Committee in Akole.
The four major demands of this struggle were as follows:
1. The state government must give direct subsidy of Rs 10 per litre to all milk producers so that they get the price of Rs 30 per litre that they were getting before the lockdown.
2. The central government must immediately take back the notification clearing imports of 10 lakh tonnes of milk powder, which will destroy the lives of milk farmers all over India.
3. The central government must immediately rescind its decision to import milk and milk products from the USA in return for export of generic medicines to that country.
4. The central government must give an export subsidy of Rs 50 per kg for the large stocks of milk powder that are lying unsold in the country's godowns.
The scheme announced last month by the state government of buying 10 lakh litres of milk per day was limited to only about 12 tehsils in the state and only to 24 per cent of the milk companies. It thus failed to benefit farmers. Hence the AIKS demanded that instead of the state government buying milk or giving subsidies to milk companies, a direct subsidy of Rs 10 per litre must be transferred to the bank accounts of all milk producing farmers.
IMPACT OF COVID LOCKDOWN
The present milk crisis has been aggravated by the steep fall in milk demand due to the post-Covid shutdown of hotels, restaurants, hostels, canteens and mithai shops, apart from very few marriages and other social functions. With institutional sales collapsing – these make up a quarter of the country’s market for milk and milk products – dairies have been accumulating skimmed milk powder and butter through the summer and monsoon months. This situation will worsen once milk production increases in the coming months with a lacklustre festival season which may not see much demand for sweets made from milk products. Dairies selling only commodities (skimmed milk powder and butter) have already, since the March 25 lockdown, slashed milk prices by Rs 10-13 per litre. Even those largely into liquid milk marketing have cut milk prices by Rs 3-5 per litre.
The central government should direct the National Dairy Development Board to create a large buffer stock of skimmed milk powder and butter and give export subsidy for these products. But far from doing so, the BJP central government has issued a notification for the import of 10 lakh tonnes of milk powder, a disastrous move that has further depressed milk prices in various parts of the country. It has also made a deal with the USA, wherein generic medicines from India will be exported to the USA, and milk and milk products from the USA will be imported into India. This will be another death warrant for India’s farmers.
The other specific reason for the sharp drop in milk prices in Maharashtra is integrally related to the milk brand wars that have been going on for the last several years.
The unprecedented success story of the giant Amul milk co-operative in Gujarat, begun in 1946 and led for many decades by Tribhuvandas Patel and Verghese Kurien, is well known. Apart from a whole range of innovative pro-farmer measures, they brought all milk co-operatives in Gujarat under the single brand Amul. Thankfully, successive BJP governments in Gujarat have not yet succeeded in undermining Amul. Similarly, in Karnataka, there is another overwhelmingly popular co-operative milk brand called Nandini.
Because of Amul, milk farmers in Gujarat, even today despite the Covid lockdown, are still receiving up to Rs 30 per litre for their cow milk, whereas in Maharashtra the price received by farmers has dropped to less than Rs 20. Hence thousands of farmers in Maharashtra sell over 33 lakh litres of milk daily to Amul, since they get a better price.
In Maharashtra, many years ago, a similar effort was made to set up a brand under the name of the Mahananda apex state milk co-operative. However, the fact is that politicians from both the ruling and opposition bourgeois parties, with their own vested interests, undermined this effort and either began their own brands or encouraged other companies to start theirs. As a result, today there are around 272 different milk brands in the state.
There is a cut-throat competition among them, which is by no means free and fair. Huge sums of ‘protection money’ changes hands for certain brands to be allowed to be sold in certain areas. Massive amounts are extracted as commissions. The quality of milk is compromised due to large scale adulteration. The large milk companies, which may be called the milk mafia, make enormous profits. The losers, who are millions in number, are both the milk producing farmers and also the milk consumers in urban and rural areas.
Broadly, the current economics of milk in Maharashtra is as follows, per litre of cow milk. The farmer gets Rs 20 per litre or less, Rs 15 per litre is the cost of homogenisation, pasteurisation, transport, distribution, profits and so on, and the remaining Rs 13 per litre is swallowed by the unscrupulous milk mafia. This makes it a total of Rs 48 per litre at which milk is sold to the consumers. This third component can and must go to farmers. The formula that must be worked out is that 70 per cent of the sale price of milk should go to farmers, while 30 per cent should go to processing, transport, distribution and profit.
The real solution to this is for the state government to muster the necessary political will to wind up all these brands and merge them into a single co-operative brand, like Amul. But no state government, regardless of party, has shown such a political will.
The AIKS will continue its struggle for a fair deal to milk farmers in Maharashtra.