The milk industry took a hit after the selective lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak began in Bengal on March 23, which then coincided with the 21-day countrywide lockdown, starting March 25. According to suppliers, nearly 3 lakh litre of milk, mostly distributed for the production of sweets, were being wasted daily as there were no takers. Also, the milk suppliers did not have any system in place to preserve milk.
On March 25, Jorashanko Dugdho Byabshayee Samiti, a milk traders’ organisation, wrote to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seeking her intervention in this crisis.
“It would be of great help if the West Bengal government could purchase milk for Mother Dairy at its own rate as fixed by the state government, because Mother Dairy has enough resources to store and use huge quantities of milk. We all would be delighted if you consider the proposal for the well being of a large number of people,” read the letter.
However, the state government was yet to take a decision in this matter.
The state has its largest milk market at Jorasanko in Kolkata, from where the product is supplied to the entire state, mostly for sweet production. Problem ensued when all the sweet factories in the state closed down following the lockdown.
President of Jorashanko Dugdho Byabshayee Samiti, Rajesh Sinha, said: “Nearly 60 per cent of the milk is sold to the sweet factories. Now, there are no buyers. But we cannot stop milking the cows.” He added, “Our cost of production is Rs 55 a litre, whereas we used to sell milk at Rs 58-65 per litre. Now, many are selling milk at Rs 22-25 per litre. Moreover, the fodder used to come from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which has stopped coming due to the lockdown. So, many have started selling their cattle to the slaughter houses for around Rs 25,000.”
Sinha said, “Moreover, we have no means to preserve milk.”
According to sources, if this situation continues, most owners may end up selling their cattle. So, there may be a severe milk crisis even when the lockdown is over.
“Not only milk producers, there are also thousands of other people who are directly or indirectly involved with this business. So, the milk crisis may leave a lot of people unemployed,” said a milk supplier who did not wish to be named.
A senior official of the Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises Department said, “Not only the milk market, many others are also at stake after the lockdown was announced. But the state does not have the required resources to buy that huge quantity of milk daily. So, we have not decided yet on this particular industry. But will soon come up with a plan to tide over the crisis.”
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