The Kaira milk union, the original Amul cooperative built by Tribhuvandas Patel and Verghese Kurien, is in the midst of an ugly political tussle, that many fear could threaten its credibility and brand image, apart from harming the interests of farmer-members caught in the crossfire.
Kaira is the only one among 17 district unions affiliated to the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), whose board is not controlled by the ruling BJP in the state. Both its chairman Ramsinh Parmar and vice-chairman Rajendrasinh Parmar are Congress MLAs from Thasra and Borsad assembly constituencies, respectively.
In the latest election to the Kaira union’s managing committee held on May 12, too, 10 out of the 13 members who won were from the existing Congress-led board. The remaining three elected members were BJP functionaries.
But on May 22, the Registrar of Cooperatives (RCS) nominated three members to the union’s committee by invoking Section 80(2) of the Gujarat Cooperative Societies Act (GSCA), giving the state government the power to nominate three representatives on the board of any cooperative while citing “public interest”.
The Kaira union’s bylaws provide for 17 members in its board of directors. That includes 13 elected members, one nominee of the RCS, two representatives of financial institutions (in this case, the Kaira District Central Cooperative Bank and the National Dairy Development Board), and one from the GCMMF. Under the GSCA, the total board strength can go up to 21 members.
“By appointing three additional nominees through invoking the so-called public interest clause and hoping to enlist support from the other non-elected members, the whole intention was to convert minority into majority in order to capture the union and have a BJP chairman”, alleged Ramsinh Parmar.
Besides, the RCS, on May 27, issued an order for conducting a “special audit” of the Kaira union. “This kind of harassment and political interference never happened when Narendra Modi was the chief minister. His government may not have supported our union in any way, but it at least showcased the Amul dairy as an example of an organisation helping poor farmers earn their bread”, Parmar added.
The Kaira union, in 2014-15, procured an average 17.65 lakh litres per day of milk from 8.8 lakh farmer-members, who received payments of Rs 3,317 crore from an annual turnover of Rs 4,145 crore. The average Rs 578 per kg paid by the union to producers worked out to Rs 35.72 for a litre of full-cream milk that consumers buy at Rs 48. The ultimate sufferers of the ongoing political standoff are the farmers of Kheda and Anand districts, who provide milk to the Kaira union’s 1,205 primary cooperative societies.
“Since there is no functioning board, important decisions, including approval of last year’s annual accounts or the budget for 2015-16, are pending. Worse, farmers cannot be given the bonus/price difference from the year-end profits of the union,” a union official said. The price difference money, aggregating to Rs 160-170 crore, would be most useful now, enabling farmers to buy seeds and fertilizers for the coming kharif plantings or even pay for the school, college fees of their children.
A dairy industry source noted that the Gujarat government’s current actions lack legitimacy when it neither owns any equity in the Kaira union nor extended loans or guaranteed the repayment/interest on debts: “This is clearly motivated by politics and nothing else”.
When contacted, Gujarat’s Minister for Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Cooperatives, Babubhai Bokhiria, said the appointment of the three additional members to Kaira union’s managing committee was as per the provisions of the GSCA.