January 16, 1988

South Gujarat University

South Gujarat University

Convocation Address

By V. Kurien, Chairman

National Dairy Development Board

Nineteenth annual convocation

January 16, 1988


Mr. Vice Chancellor, Mr. Pro-vice Chancellor, members of the Senate, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, and above all, graduating students of the year.

You have done me a great honour today, by inviting me to address this distinguished audience – especially on an occasion of such importance to the graduates who receive their degrees today. To them a convocation is an end, but also, more importantly, a beginning. It is, therefore, a time when anticipation of the future is more important than reflections on the past. Those of you who receive degrees today have completed what is but the first – and with due respect to your University and faculty — perhaps the least important part of your education. Your degree certifies you as one of our nation’s educated elite; but how you use what you have learned, how you build upon it, how you will apply it, is of far greater importance and will be the more difficult challenge. Your future examinations, will be set not by a University, but by the harsh realities that face our country, the opportunities our many problems offer you for solution and by the fact that you will have to conquer the significant changes in our social, economic and political systems that are inevitable within your life-time. Already significant changes in these systems are evolving and new institutional structures are emerging. I propose to talk today of a new institutional structure for agricultural development with which I have been involved and to discuss its implications.

It was just at the dawn of our Independence that I found myself – much against my will I might say – posted as a Research Scientist to the little town of Anand in Kaira District, Gujarat. Being a government Research Scientist, I had plenty of free time. It was there that I got mixed up with some rather remarkable people who were grappling with the problem of exploitation. Kaira District producers milk, far more milk during the flush season than can be consumed there, or in the surrounding areas. And so, the milk was purchased by traders and a private dairy who would send it to Bombay. The profit, needless to say, went to the dairy – not to the farmers. Shri Tribhuvandas Patel and his colleagues believed that though cooperation the farmers of Kaira District could strengthen their position. As you know, they were proved right. But, it was not without a struggle and not without learning that our efforts could not succeed unless we became involved not only in trading, but in supporting production, in processing, and in the marketing of dairy products. We also learned that the rural dairy products. We also learned that the rural poor could command a major enterprise and, in so doing, earn a far greater share of the consumer’s rupee. But to do so, the farmer’s power had to be linked with the expertise of professional management, management that would represent their interests effectively, persistently and with integrity.

The success of our efforts in Kaira District soon led neighbouring areas of Gujarat to seek our help in organising their dairy farmers into cooperatives. Surat was one of them. As he success began to multiply, the then Prime Minister, Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri, decided that the same approach should be the basis of a new national dairy development policy and, at his instance, the National Dairy Development Board was established. This led to Operation Flood.

What is Operation Flood? It is basically a dairy development programme. It is the organisation, of 8 million farmers, giving them a platform to articulate their needs, to demand a better place under the Indian sun. The basis of Operation Flood is giving power to the producer by combining their energies and great resources with the talent and commitment of professional management. More than 75% of the milk producers are small and marginal farmers and landless labourers. Here in the Surat Cooperative Dairy for example more than half the milk collected is produced by Advasis, who had previously never produced milk. It is therefore appropriate that some have dubbed Operation Flood the “White Revolution”, for it is a revolution – not only in production, but in creating a constituency of farmers who, served by professional managers, can exert pressures in their own interest thereby participating effectively in our democratic process. It is no accident that the income of dairy farmers have increased. They are organised and they have a voice. We can also take some pride in the fact that because their organistions are managed professionally, and because they are efficient, price increases to the consumer have been moderate.

This revolution has not taken place without opposition. It has been opposed by some politicians, by many bureaucrats, by all middlemen merchants and traders. It has been opposed by advanced dairying countries and by multi-national food companies. It has been opposed by a few who have made their life easy by calling themselves Scientists concerned with metaphysical, social and economic questions. Lacking the courage or conviction to be a participant they have chosen to watch the game as a spectator. But my colleagues and I, having chosen a cause, had to struggle for it. Yet this coalition of vested interests who wanted fame by criticising, who don’t want the poor to emerge, who feel threatened when the poor gain access to the stage of democratic decision making, has failed. They have failed because of the very fact that the farmers have organised. And they have failed because the salvation of India is that in high places, in all spheres, even among social scientists, there are people of good intentions, of good will and of ability. Such people have not only welcomed the poor to the arena of democratic decision making, but have actively supported and encouraged this process.

The government of India, beginning with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, has encouraged what we call the Anand pattern of cooperative development. As I mentioned, it was Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri who was instrumental in creating the National Dairy Development Board so that the Anand Pattern could be extended to every part of the country. It was Smt. Indira Gandhi whose encouragement and support was vital to Operation Flood and, very recently to creating an alternative structure for vegetable and fruit marketing on the Anand Pattern. And it was Shri Morarji Desai and Shri HM Patel who saw the Anand Pattern as the way to replicate the success of Operation Flood with oilseeds and edible oil. It is our own Chief Minister, Shri Amarsinh Chaudhary, who now wants the Anand Pattern to be tried out on power generation and distribution by decentralising its functions.

Whether with milk, with vegetable and fruit, with oil, or with power, organisation of farmers into cooperative enterprises is the first step towards releasing our rural population from the bonds of poverty. By their command over procurement, processing and marketing, the farmers ensure that their share of the consumer’s rupee increases, providing them with a remunerative and reliable return on their investment. Increased and stable income creates the conditions for further investment in production and productivity, an effort supported by the cooperative which provide the services and inputs the farmers require. When the cooperatives achieve an influential share of the market – this forces the trade to conform, to compete with fair prices to the farmer and to the consumer. Most important, the cooperative enterprise, linking farmers locally, regionally and nationally, empowers the rural poor and can give them a strong voice in our democratic process.

This is important because decision making of a Government is often not based on the merits of the case, but as a response to the pressures exerted of them In our democratic form of government, our division makers weave their path between conflicting pressures, opposing a few surrendering to many and compromising with all. In our last forty years of free existence most of these pressures have come from our industrialists, our organised labour and from those who reside in cities. Hardly any pressure has been applied by our farmers who reside in our villages. That is why we have fly-overs in our cities but no approach roads to many of our villages. We have fountains with coloured lights in cities, but no safe drinking water in many of our villages. Fancy five star hospitals in cities, but no health system to put two drops of a disinfectant in a new born child’s eye in a village to prevent the child from going blind. That is why we have Colleges and Universities in cities but no black-boards in many village schools. Our urban elite have shamelessly usurped the scarce resources of our land leaving very little to the 75% of our people who live in our villages. Our organised labour who work in our factories and offices have helped themselves to more and more for working less and less. They have assured pay scales which are revised every three years, Dearness Allowance, Bonus, Gratuity, Provident Fund, Leave Travel Concession, Overtime, Privilege Leave, Sick Leave, Maternity Leave, paid holidays and what not. As against this, those who work in our farms get no assured income, are exposed to the vagaries of the monsoon and have no assured jobs. Our constitution assures equality of treatment to all Indians and yet how is it that laws are passed to pay retrenchment compensation to those who lose their jobs but no jobs are assured to those who have none. Is it not time we converted the Labour Minister and his department who continue to specialise in giving more to those who already have so much into an Employment Ministry which will ensure that those who have no jobs will get one. Is it not time we stopped emptying our treasury for paying more and more to Government employees who keep proliferating. Should our factories continue to provide us had quality products at high costs because we have to surrender more and more to the unreasonable demands and suffer the increasing indiscipline of organised labour. At what point of time do we call a halt to this looting of India by a powerful minority and begin to look into the legitimate demands of75% of our population who live in our villages?

It is perhaps tempting to try to achieve the changes we want to bring about by rasta rokos, revolution and violence. It is unfortunately true that those in authority often tend to ignore reasonable requests for redress, but surrender to a display of force. But the gains achieved by violence is often illusory and are always accompanied by losses which are more permanent. It is always better to organise the weak and the poor into institutional structures that are viable and strong and to combine their collective power with professional management, and o ensure that such structures will endure. For this, we need professional managers not professional politicians; we need servants of the farmers, not farmer leaders.

All this is not to say that a bureaucracy is not needed. Nor is it to say that systems of government can easily avoid an urban orientation. The nature of Government and bureaucracies is such that their apex and focus is almost bound to be the big cities. Probably that can’t be helped—but it does mean that, when it comes to rural development, the Government structure can best confine itself to identifying national and State goals and priorities and that the bureaucratic structure can best confine itself to guiding, monitoring and, if necessary, correcting the implementation of the policies and goals established by the Government. It is only when the bureaucratic structure tries also to do the implementing itself that inevitable difficulties arise; a bureaucratic structure is not suited to the practical tasks of getting things done in our villages, or to working with farmers.

I submit cooperatives offer an alternative, effective structure. But then, are cooperatives in India what they should be? Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Cooperative societies are ideally suited… not only for developing village industries but also for promoting group effort by the villagers.” He urged that village workers should study the occupations that could be undertaken in each village and “then proceed to organise these occupation on a cooperative basis.” He wrote that … cooperative farming and dairying is undoubtedly a good goal, promoting national interests.”

Cooperation has existed in our country from time immemorial: and it was this cooperation that I believe Gandhiji espoused. A cooperative system initiated by the British, organised by the Government and ruled by a Registrar was alien to our culture and our genius.

It was therefore with great sorrow and distress that those of us who hoped to see the cooperatives bloom after Independence saw that while political power had been transferred, the approach to cooperation remained the same. While the numbers of cooperatives multiplied to every corner of the land, our leaders and officials paid scant heed to Gandhi’s words: “Cooperation, which is rooted in the soil, always succeeds”, he said. Rather, many Registrars of Cooperatives and their departments saw it as their duty to uproot cooperatives that had sprung from our native soil; instead they sought to spread cooperatives merely as extensions of their departments and which were firmly rooted in the bureaucracy, a soil in which they might exist, but where they would never flourish. In so doing they ignored Gandhiji’s admonition “that Government governs best which governs least.”

Today we in India claim to have one of the largest cooperative movements in the world: more than one lakh fifty thousand cooperative organisations cover the length and breadth of our land. Had these cooperatives been guided by the wisdom of Gandhiji, by the conviction and purpose of a Tribhuvandas Patel, they would no doubt have transformed our rural areas, empowering our farmers, allowing them to direct their own destinies. Our democracy would have been strengthened at the grassroots as our rural people learned to use wisely the power of one man with one vote. Economic justice would have been achieved in far greater measure as exploitation by money lenders, traders and vested interests was curbed by cooperation. Social justice, too, would have been advance by the lesions of cooperation where rich and poor, Hindu and Muslim Brahmin and Harijan unite for the common good. We now work to replicate Anand Pattern cooperatives in all parts of India. In increasing number of instances our dreams are dashed against the rocks of politics, bureaucracy, and disregard of the fundamental principles of cooperation. What should have been a people’s movement has been officialised, bureaucratised and politicised. It is not necessarily wrong that a political person serves as a cooperative leader; what is wrong is when such a person puts his political purposes above the principles and purposes of cooperation. The cooperative can be a powerful instrument of constructive change in our villages, but only if its leaders behave with decency, honesty and integrity. We must remember this all the more in Gujarat where large cooperative businesses have come up. With great foresight and wisdom, Mahatma Gandhi once said, “the cooperative movement will be a blessing to India only to the extent that it is a moral movement.”

I like to think that it is now being realised that cooperatives can serve as powerful instruments of social and economic change if we rescue it from Government and restore it to its memebership. Moves are afoot to modernise and democratise the cooperative movement and to find within it an honoured place for professional management. I hope these changes will soon be brought about and the institutional structure that I today discussed with you, will assume strength and meaning. If I have been able to explain to even a few of you what the changes, which are taking place now, mean to be – and if even a few of you are, as a result, influenced to try your hand at serving our country’s poor rural producers – if even a few of you take up the opportunities which now beckon you to our country-side — then I shall feel that I have not done such a bad job today.

I wish you all well.