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Mahanand Dairy, Maharashtra’s milk producers’ federation, to be handed to NDDB. State govt cites brand revival, opposition alleges shift to Gujarat.

Mahanand Dairy, the federation of the state’s milk producers in districts and tehsils, will be handed over to the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), a central government body headquartered in Anand, Gujarat. While the state government maintains the decision was taken a few days ago to revive the loss-making brand, opposition has slammed the move stating it is a ploy to shift another key Maharashtra project to Gujarat and hand over the dairy’s over 50-acre plot in Goregaon to a favoured builder.

The move is reminiscent of Gujarat-based Amul attempting to make inroads into neighbouring Karnataka, posing a threat to local cooperative dairy Nandini last year. It kicked up a row ahead of the assembly elections in April 2023.

The 18-member board of directors of Mahanand resigned from their posts on Wednesday, making way for the handover. The national body had mandated the dissolution of the existing board and funding of ₹253.57 crore as a soft loan or capital investment by Maharashtra government for the brand’s rejuvenation. Although the state had insisted on the continuation of the existing board (which consisted of a relative of dairy development minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil and MLAs from the ruling parties), NDDB refused to comply.

The proposal is expected to be discussed at the state cabinet over the next few weeks. The decision was taken after the cooperative failed to retain its previous glory and the daily collection of milk dropped from over nine lakh litre in 2005-06 to 80,000 litre now. The federation has also not been able to pay the salaries of its 940 employees for over six months. Around 530 have opted for voluntary retirement.

“The state government is not responsible for the federation’s operations. The central government’s intervention will ensure the revival of a key cooperative sector institution,” said a senior official from the dairy development department.

The official said of the 14 million litres milk collected daily in the state, 11 million litres is by private brands. “With the revival of Mahanand, the government aims to gain control over private players, which would be in the interest of farmers and the public,” he said.

Reacting to the move, Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Sanjay Raut called it “another conspiracy of the Shinde government to send Maharashtra’s project to Gujarat”. He also alleged the government has its eyes on handing over the prime dairy land in Goregaon to a developer close to the ruling parties.

“The government has been unable to run a simple dairy. They are interested in ‘khoke’ politics and have been operating their own dairies in profit. Mahananad was under the chairmanship of the brother-in-law of dairy development minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil,” said Raut.

Reiterating Raut’s claim, NCP (Sharad Pawar faction) MLA Jitendra Awhad posted on X: “Mahanand has been sold off to Gujarat. Mahanand ki jai!”

Countering Raut’s allegations, Vikhe-Patil said: “If Raut is able to prove the allegations, I will retire. We do not indulge in mud-slinging against opponents, but he is defaming us and he will have to face the consequences. The Mahanand land does not measure 50 acres, but the allegations are being levelled for political gains.”

Chairman of Mahanand, Rajesh Parjane, said the allegations are being made to “politicize the issue”, while the federation’s aim is to nurture the cooperative back to form. “NDDB has given us the revised proposal of ₹253 crore of which ₹128 crore is required to compensate employees opting for voluntary retirement. Two milk societies in Jalgaon and Nagpur were handed over to the central body and the results are visible. It has handed the Jalgaon milk society back to the board of directors in eight to nine years after streamlining operations and turning it into a profit-making venture,” he said.

Source : The Hindustan Times Feb 23rd 2024

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