Sunday, August 18, 2013


In a country where every food material sold in the market has suspect safety credentials, the citizens are left wondering where to go or what to do to ensure that they get the right quality of food with assured safety to their health. With a government proving to be a helpless spectator in this sordid drama, private traders are having a swell time amassing fortunes at the expense of the health of citizens. FSSAI, the much touted safety agency in the country comfortably ensconced in Delhi and a highly dysfunctional implementation system at the state level throwing up its hands due to inadequate infrastructure, personnel and wide spread corruption make sure that traders and the manufacturing industry get away with murder. Added to this, the judicial system, working at a snail's pace, help the retailers and food handlers buy time in terms of decades even if they are indicted eventually. 

It is against this background one has to view the recent proclamation from Delhi by a group of entrepreneurs that they would set up a dedicated "Milk City" that could ensure equity to the producer as well as the consumer. Though this is difficult to believe considering the enormous odds they face, concept wise it can be a win-win situation. One may recall the vision with which the late Dr Verghese Kurien led the White Revolution which catapulted India into international light and made this country the top milk producing player in the world. While the NDDB efforts deserve full praise for its farmer friendly policies, there is a feeling that consumer is left behind in this high stake marketing game. To day there is practically no difference between the prices of milk products sold by the private industry and that charged by the milk cooperatives. There is no dispute that farmers who form the backbone of country's food security must be rewarded amply but creating a niche farmer group with extraordinarily high income at the expense of the consumer is a questionable strategy. This is what is happening in the country with milk prices soaring each year and surplus production is claimed, probably because high prices invariably restrict milk consumption while excluding many from buying this precious healthy food.

On one hand most cooperative milk federations in the states are reporting collection of milk beyond their capacity to process and sell while on the other hand hungry children in low income families are denied this protective food in many parts of the country. Recent news report that the state milk federation in Andhra Pradesh is holding huge stocks of milk powder without being able to sell them is disturbing indeed. Adding to this unfortunate situation is the inability of the Federation to strike a deal with the applied nutrition program authorities in the state in supplying the powder to the vulnerable segment of the population on account of the price at which its stock has to be disposed off. Probably every one seems to be forgetting the reality that food has a limited life, with each passing day causing irreversible quality damage. One wonders whether these powerful federations will end up like the FCI which finds itself in a precarious position to protect the food grains it procures leaving significant quantities to rot in the open!    

If the media reports are to be believed a group of private milk dealers from the National Capital Region (NCR) around Delhi are planning to take up a project for setting up a dedicated milk producing cum processing facility in the region to be called a "Milk City" (outside the city precincts) that is capable of handling about 1000 to 250000 liters of milk per day to consumers in the Delhi Metropolitan area in direct competition with the Mother Diary and private milk suppliers. Their USP is supposed to be lower prices charged for their fluid milk compared to that charged by others. It is true that there is widely perceived feeling that cooperatives and corporations are currently fleecing both the farmers and consumers, by purchasing milk at low prices from farmers and then selling it at high rates to consumers. The high profit margins gained by these current players due to helplessness of the consumer sought to be neutralized by the new venture. How this can be achieved remains to be seen as no one can expect any industry to work like a charitable organization and profits are the drive engine that ensures growth for the industry. Still if these idealistic entrepreneurs are able to bring in such a revolution, that too in Delhi, it may have ripple effect heralding another white revolution in the country in a different way, viz an equitable way.

According to the blueprint unveiled by the Milk City promoters, the brand new facility would come up on 300 acres of land in Gurgaon, and the development model will be similar to that of NDDB, the major difference being that it will be an integrated facility encompassing both production and processing. In contrast NDDB model is based on widely dispersed production centers in villages from where milk is ferried to the centralized facility for processing. It is mind boggling to imagine about 100,000 cattle being housed in one place with about 8,600 milkmen from areas adjoining Delhi like the districts of Jhunjhunu and Alwar (Rajasthan) and Mewat (Haryana), having registered with the milk city. It is some what far fetched to believe that a cattle population of 1 lakh heads can deliver only 10-25000 liters a day and the concept needs more clarification on this issue. Rearing so many cattle in one place presents many logistical problems which one hopes the organizers have taken into consideration. Also not clear is what spin off projects are planned that can run concurrently with milk production program. Probably one lakh cattle can generate sufficient methane gas to meet the power needs of a small city! The view of the Government on this project is not yet clear as it involves migration of thousands rural families to Delhi region presenting some socio-cultural problems.

There is also confusion regarding delivery of milk to the consumers and it may not be practical to imagine that residents' associations will come forward to the milk city for taking up the distribution responsibility. Ultimately there is the possibility that the new venture may also become identical to the current players with almost the same distribution infrastructure as these players have! Whether the promised cheap milk will remain a mirage remains to be seen However if this concept really works as being propounded by the Delhi 'Milk City' dreamers, other major cities also should think of such mega projects near by for meeting the milk needs of their population at affordable prices..


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