Amul is now a Congress-mukt federation’: How BJP took control of India’s largest milk cooperative

Out today, the second — and concluding — part of our report on why Amul, India’s much-loved dairy federation, is in trouble.


The Amul story: How politics is hurting the economics of Gujarat’s milk cooperatives

In the winter of 2013, the inner workings of Amul briefly became public. A boardroom putsch was underway. The directors of no less than 14 of the 17 district milk cooperatives that were then part of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, which owns the Amul brand, had turned against chairman Vipul Chaudhary. A member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Chaudhary was part of the Shanker Singh Vaghela-faction that had branched out as a separate party in 1996 and formed a shortlived government with Congress support. Chaudhary had since then returned to the BJP, but in 2013, others in the Amul federation suspected him of cosying up to the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre. This cost him the support of BJP-controlled district milk cooperatives, news reports said.

In the course of the power struggle, serious accusations of financial impropriety surfaced against Chaudhary, who was also the chairman of the milk cooperative at Mehsana. Board members charged him with selling 7,000 tonnes of milk powder at low rates to private buyers, resulting in losses for the Mehsana dairy. It was also alleged that Chaudhary had created excess manufacturing capacities without taking permission from the federation. This had led to a higher interest and depreciation burden, resulting in huge losses, alleged RS Sodhi, the managing director of the federation.

But with public attention focused elsewhere – the 2014 national election was already creating headlines – Amul’s boardroom battle did not get the attention it deserved. In January 2014, the dissidents won. Chaudhary was removed. Amul found itself a new chairman and vice-chairman. A curtain dropped on its functioning all over again.

This year, in August, the curtain parted briefly when Ramsinh Parmar, the MLA from Thasra constituency, left the Congress to join the BJP. Parmar wasn’t just one more MLA deserting the Congress before state assembly elections. As the chairman of the Kaira milk cooperative, he was the last standing non-BJP chairman in the federation.

The majoritarian project in Gujarat only serves the rich, says political scientist Ghanshyam Shah

In the run-up to Assembly elections in December, Gujarat is in the throes of powerful forces.

On the one hand, some of its principal economic pillars, such as small manufacturing and agriculture, are in trouble. At the same time, the state is seeing a curious fissuring. What was once a separation between Hindus and Muslims has spread further. It is visible not just in the case of Una – where Dalits rose in protest after four tanners from the community were accused of cow slaughter and attacked in July 2016 – or the Patidar agitation for reservations in jobs and education, but also within the Patel community. It is getting increasingly difficult for Kadva Patels to get a house in a Leuva Patel colony and vice-versa, this reporter was told in Rajkot. Look closer at the state and you will see other shifts. Public displays of devotion during festivals are on the rise, for instance.

Trying to make sense of such changes, spoke with Ghanshyam Shah, a leading political scientist on Gujarat and the author of Social Movements in India. As we learnt, some of these patterns are visible elsewhere in India – like Punjab turning to gurus and deras or religious organisations as economic insecurity deepens. Other changes, however, are fruit from a very different tree. Gujarat has been under majoritarian governments for the last 20 years. Come here and you see what happens to a society once majoritarian politics wins. How its rulers use the power they accumulate. How society – the minority and majority communities alike – changes….

Do read.

‘This government is killing our businesses’: What small, medium enterprises think of GST revisions

After Friday’s GST Council meeting, which decided to cut the goods and services tax rate on two dozen commodities and announced relaxations for exporters and small and medium companies, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the changes brought in an early Diwali.

The business press was bullish as well. “Three months on, GST now good for small traders,” said one headline.

This ebullience is intriguing. The impact of the Goods and Services Tax is complicated. Billed as India’s biggest tax reform, GST subsumes all the indirect taxes that businesses earlier paid the Centre and states separately with the aim of creating a common market. It involves a complete overhaul of the tax filing system.

Since its implementation on July 1, as several articles in and other publications have shown, small and medium companies in a range of industries are struggling to stay viable while complying with the new tax regime’s requirements. That is not all. GST also affects different companies in the same industry in different ways. For both these reasons, the GST Council’s revisions on Friday deserve a closer look. How far do they go? Do they really address the major concerns of all Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, also known as MSMEs, in the country?

How palm oil from Malaysia fired the Patel agitation in Gujarat

Dhirubhai is in dire straits. He can no longer recover his investments on the groundnuts he grows on three acres of land along the Junagadh-Verawal road in Gujarat.

In a good year, he grows 100 kilos of groundnuts – or peanuts – for every Rs 4,000 he invests. The minimum support price – or the price at which the government buys the crop – is Rs 4,400. But the middle-aged farmer said government officials buy only from “vyapari aur mota rajkarmi” (traders and big farmers). Smaller farmers like him sell to private oil mills at very low rates. Last year, he got just Rs 3,500 for every 100 kilos of groundnuts – lower than both his investment and the minimum support price.

Blame it on rising edible oil imports — especially palm oil. And therein hangs a story. Do read.

Why small businessmen in Gujarat are quitting industry and turning to financial speculation

Two major trends are playing out in Gujarat’s economy.

On one hand, small industrial units are shutting down. This is not a recent development. Micro, small and medium units in the state started getting into trouble about five years ago, well before the central government demonetised high-value currency notes in November and introduced the Goods and Services Tax in July. As reported from Surat, several factors were at work – rising imports from China, the entry of bigger players with greater economies of scale, and government policies such as import duties that favoured bigger companies over smaller ones.

On the other hand, financial investments have boomed in Gujarat. Two years ago, a sharebroking firm in Rajkot, Marwadi Shares, was adding about 1,000 new customers every month. That is now up to 6,000 new customers a month, said Ketan Marwadi, its managing director.

Data for the last five years shows the state’s people are investing more in fixed deposits, mutual funds and small savings accounts.

Businessmen in the state say the two trends are related – an industrial slowdown is leading to a rise in financial investments.

Missing in the panel set up to frame India’s new mineral policy: Adivasis, ecologists, civil society

Does the KR Rao Committee ring a bell?

It was set up last month by the Union Ministry of Mines after the Supreme Court’s tough judgement on illegal iron ore mining in Odisha. Disposing of a petition filed by the non-profit Common Cause, Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta not only ordered the Union government to recover the full value of iron ore mined illegally by the mining lease owners, it also asked it to review India’s mining regulations.

These regulations have failed to arrest illegal mining in the country as is evident in several cases across India – for instance in Karnataka and Odisha, as well as Goa, where the Supreme Court imposed a ban on iron ore mining in 2012, and Tamil Nadu, which has seen rampant illegal sand mining for several years. They have also failed to mitigate the social and environmental consequences of mining. Indeed, there are glaring economic inequalities in India’s mineral-rich districts. Communities living close to the mineral reserves teeter at the edge of destitution and battle environmental pollution even as a handful of politically-connected people amass extraordinary riches.

The Supreme Court therefore directed the Centre to set up an expert committee, chaired by a retired judge, to identify the regulatory lapses that allowed illegal mining. It also directed the Union government to review the National Mineral Policy, 2008, in order to bring in greater transparency, environmental protection and more social and economic growth.

Accordingly, the Ministry of Mines set up the KR Rao Committee on August 14. The committee is expected to submit its report on October 31. Its composition, however, raises questions on whether India’s mining sector will see a fundamental overhaul or more of the same.