This is a story of a dream to which the interacting faith of a great many people finally gave substance.
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Photo of Dr Verghese Kurian, Father of the Indian white revolution.
Realisation of the dream began with the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers' Union, which was then like a small but sturdy plant, full of sap. That plant has grown into a fruitful tree, with spreading roots and branches, but it is still nourished by the soil from which it sprang. Likewise are the towering concrete structures and landscaped gardens; the array of computers; the clever, highly skilled technical staff; the busy researchers, eloquent teachers, and eager students: they all draw their purpose from the `white revolution' that has brought so much of rural India out of the feudal age.
The white revolution has not been easy to achieve. At one time, the milk lake of Kaira district was stagnant. A few traders skimmed off fat profits, leaving to the numerous producers only a sour thin whey of inadequate payment. But the cooperative movement bean to churn that lake and soon it overflowed, spreading throughout the country.
(In an interview to The Hindu Business Line in May 2006, Kurien said: "He (Sardar Patel) firmly believed that a revolution in marketing the farmers' produce - which would be beneficial to the farmers - was necessary. Sardar Patel was convinced that in order to save themselves, the farmers needed to control the procuring, processing and marketing of milk." They got Tribhuvandas Patel, who by his own admission "did not know anything about the dairy business", to be the chairman of the Kaira Cooperatives.)
The Churning Begins
The cooperative movement in Kaira had an early beginning. A resolution of the Bombay Presidency Government in 1904 had directed that work should begin on organizing cooperatives in six districts, including Kaira. A cooperative Societies Act from the same government in 1912 was more effective. The Congress ministry, which took office in 1937, showed greater interest in the cooperative movement, recognizing it as an instrument of rural reconstruction. A report was commissioned by Vaikunthlal Mehta, (then) finance minister, and M D Bhansali of the ICS (Indian Civil Service), who was registrar of Cooperative Societies. After World War II, the movement progressed greatly in Bombay presidency, despite the short tenure of the Congress ministry.
An Unlikely Recruit
It was kindly providence that brought Verghese Kurien to work at dairy engineering in a part of India that was so different and far from his native Kerala. Kurien was born in Calicut on November 26, 1921. His father, Puthenparakkal Kurien, was a civil surgeon serving in Madras Presidency. In his fifteenth year, Kurien passed the Secondary School Leaving Certificate Examination. Too young for admission to an engineering college, he took a Bachelor of Science degree from Loyola College, Madras, graduating in 1940 with the seventh rank in the presidency. Intelligent, hardworking and ambitious, he was a credit to his family and community.
Shockingly inadequate living quarters (there was no bathroom until Kurien contrived a suitable enclosure with corrugated iron sheets), insalubrious surroundings, and enforced idleness: Kurien might well consider himself to be serving a term of punishment. A natty dresser, he no longer took trouble over his appearance but grew a beard, wore khaki overalls, and began to smoke continuously. His brother sent him an old-fashioned cook-bearer named Anthony, who carried out his duties in full panoply of turban, sash and starched uniform. This added the final touch of absurdity what Kurien could only regard as a farce.
Anand was such a small town that a newcomer was bound to be noticed and talked about. As a meat-eating bachelor (in a largely vegetarian town), and a Malayali-Christian with a phoren (phoren is the vernacular pronunciation of foreign) degree, he provided ample scope for speculation in local gossip.
So determined was Kurien to keep himself usefully occupied that he undertook a private expedition to Bombay to sell the milk powder. With the help of his friends he made a list of likely customers, then tried them one by one. At the end of two days when he was almost at the end of his list, he found a buyer. A biscuit factory was prepared to take all five tones of the milk powder. Tried but pleased, Kurien returned to Anand in a fatefully altered state of affairs.
A Leap of Faith
The year 1953 marked an important milestone, in Kurien's personal life as much as in the history of Kaira Cooperative. On his return from New Zealand in April 1953, Kurien disembarked at Bombay, where he spent a few days. One night, he attended a dinner given by the YMCA to honour his maternal uncle, Dr Thomas Yakhub.
At the dinner he met a prominent businessman and social worker, K M Philip, of the wealthy family that owned Malayala Manorama, Kerala's most widely read and influential daily. Philip's wife had a younger sister, Susan Peter, fair, comely with unusual grey eyes and light brown hair. Her father and Kurien's had been friends, although Molly (as she in known to most of her acquaintances) and Kurien had never met. Kurien's mother had been trying for some time to get her son suitably married. He finally accepted his mother's suggestion that he go to Trichur and meet Molly Peter. They met for the first time on May 28, 1953, were married on June 15, at 10 in the morning, and caught the 4 o'clock train to Bombay enroute to Anand. Molly Kurien learned very early that her husband's life revolved around his work in Anand.
But to return to the history of Amul, in 1953 a proposal came from UNICEF to the Government of Bombay. For years, Unicef had been distributing free milk powder in underdeveloped nations, but it was of no advantage to the recipients in continued dependence on this aid unless it helped the nation to develop some industry of its own. Unicef offered a donation to the Bombay government, which would include milk drying equipment worth Rs 8 lakhs, in return for which the government would bind itself to distribute, through the BMS and Kaira Cooperative, Rs 12 lakh worth of free milk to undernourished, children of Kaira.
Taking on the Giants
During the winter of 1957-58, Amul Dairy frequently worked beyond capacity, sometimes for days on end, making butter and milk powder in a dogged attempt to utilize the surplus milk refused by the Bombay Milk Scheme. For 49 days, the latter only accepted between 3700 and 7500 kl of milk daily, against the contracted minimum of 26,000 kl. Sales of Amul butter helped ease the resultant financial strain. Amul butter also compensated consumers for the shortage arising from the government's policy of severely restricting imports. By filling the gap, Amul became one of the leaders in import substitution, saved foreign exchange, and kept market prices of butter in check.
In 1958-59 the decidedly unhappy relationship between Kaira Cooperative and the BMS took a turn for the better when the latter increased its offtake by 30 per cent over the quantity accepted in 1957-58. Meanwhile, Amul yielded to persuasion by the Indian government and began to manufacture sweetened condensed milk.
The government had two reasons for urging Amul to make condensed milk. While the armed forces required large amounts of it, need to conserve foreign exchange necessitated its removal from the list of imports. In 1954-55, condensed milk worth about $1,500,000 had been imported, of which 60 per cent was taken by the armed forces.
Amul's success story continues...(Click here for IIMA case study..)
Text and photographs excerpted from: The Amul India Story by Ruth Heredia. Price: Rs 295. Published with permission from Tata Mc-Graw Hill Publishing Company Limited. Copyright 1997. All rights reserved.
A parting line : Nehru has played a very important role in seeing to it that India becomes self sufficient in milk along with Sardar Vallabhai Patel. Green revolution, white revolution, starting of all PSUs. all the initial IITs and IIMs were all started by a great statesman and visionary called Nehru.