India’s financial capital Mumbai and the second biggest city in Maharashtra, Pune are likely to face a shortage in milk supply from Tuesday onwards as the agitation launched by farmer’s organisation Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) of blocking milk supply to these cities took off in many parts of Western and Northern Maharashtra. The big question in this is, are urban middle-class consumers and rural poor farmers, both victims of the current system of milk distribution, themselves going to suffer more because of this agitation?
Mumbai consumes close to 50 lakh litres of milk every day while in Pune the daily milk consumption is in the range of 12 lakh litres. Both these cities depend mainly on milk coming from districts such as Satara, Kolhapur, Solapur, Ahmednagar and Nashik among other districts the push for higher milk procurement prices designed by SSS leader Raju Shetti means now for some days milk producing farmers in all these districts will have to forgo their current daily income for a while till solution is found while middle-class consumers in cities on the other side of the divide also suffer because supply will be short and perhaps black marketing will push prices beyond decent limits. So those who are already victims (consumers as well as poor farmers) both will suffer further!
Experts feel that the fall in prices of milk are mainly because of international market conditions. The demand for milk powder in the world market is consistently dropping over the past few years. While farmers in Maharashtra are unable to command prices because of these international conditions, the other factor hitting them hard is the incoming milk supply from states like Gujarat and Karnataka where the milk cooperatives are now very robust and are aggressively eating into big markets like Mumbai, Pune and even smaller towns of India.
The irony is that while the state government’s minimum price promised to farmers in rural areas which are paid by the cooperatives is in the range of Rs.17/19 per litre, the urban consumers in Mumbai and Pune are paying approximately Rs.45 per litre at retail level. The big question is where is the Rs25 per litre going and why cannot some part of it be used to provide a cushion to the milk producing farmers?
The milk cooperatives in Maharashtra are split in various groups unlike neighbouring state Gujarat where all milk collection happens under one large brand. Experts say milk cooperatives are riddled with too much of factional politics and instead of working on farmer's interests they often are seen getting into competitive and political agendas. Too much political priorities and too much of fragmentation among the milk cooperatives in western Maharashtra is perhaps leading to farmers getting left high and dry.
On Monday, visuals of farmers throwing away milk on roads and blocking milk tankers and spilling lakhs of litres of milk on roads were seen on media all over. This was damaging for the agitators, in a country where one-third of the population does not get a square meal a day and malnutrition among rural poor is a harsh reality, farmers should not be seen throwing away milk. The demand for higher prices for their produce may be legitimate but the method of agitation seems completely unjust. Two big questions to ask, a) Are some leaders pushing farmers to do this with a political agenda in mind? and b) Are the poor farmers as well as urban consumers getting caught in the crossfire between the opposition political forces and ruling political party?