A Tribute To DR Kurein
This edition of Agro-watch is a tribute to Dr Kurein, India’s legendary milkman, the person behind brand Amul, the passionate votary of the ability of co-operative enterprises to usher in rural transformation and a great visionary. For while most people are aware of his contribution to dairy co-operatives and NDDB, few are aware of how his vision extended beyond dairying: he was instrumental in the establishment of Institute of Rural Management at Anand, seeding co-operatives in a variety of sectors—from tree growers to oilseeds, and even though he was always critical of the Indian bureaucracy, his support to the establishment of the National Institute of Administrative Research at LBS National Academy of Administration.
First things first. He stumbled into Anand and the milk business, quite by chance. He had been sent to the government milk plant and creamery at Kheda district as part of his commitment on returning from an engineering scholarship to the States, where he studied dairy engineering as a minor subject. The transformation of an engineer who tinkered with machine parts to one whose life became a commitment to the cause of milk co-operatives is indeed a very interesting saga. While he did set the machines right, he also understood about the domain economy of milk during this six-month sojourn in the village. He could understand the technical issues involved both in the chilling and preservation of milk at the collection point—but most importantly, the logistics of transport and the need for an integrated supply chain at a time when these terms were not used. He realised the importance of organisation, the need to have transparent rules, and more importantly, abide by them by using tools and techniques which were easy to understand and follow by everyone. He realised that the farmer’s focus should be on production—and all other aspects, especially marketing and technical inputs had to be provided by a specialist agency. He also understood that if the agency had to perform these support services should be owned by the farmers themselves—then not only would there be economic gains, it would lead to an empowerment and transformation of outlooks as never before. In this he found a mentor: Tribhuvan Das Patel, a dairy farmer himself who saw the potential of the young man, and persuaded him to stay on. This stay became a lifelong commitment—and it is because of this commitment that India is today the world’s largest producer of milk, and has a network of primary societies and state milk federations across the country. Amul is of course the best known brand—but Verka, Vita, Saras, Aanchal, Paras, Amrit, Himul, Milma also have their niche markets across the length and breadth of the country.
Dr Kurein was the main person responsible for the setting up of NDDB, an institution which is quite unique. Even though it is funded by the government, the working environment is extremely professional, targets are very clearly set, meticulous planning is the norm, and the institution does not take up a new project just because funding is available! Dr Kurein had insisted that it should not be headquartered in New Delhi—and a wise decision it was, for otherwise the entire focus and attention would have been on Krishi Bhawan, rather than on the primary stakeholder—the milk producer. NDDB has of course expanded its domain beyond Mother Dairy and milk. It also runs the most successful F&V retail chain, Safal, forayed into edible oil and other primary commodities as well. Under the Vegetable Initiative for Urban Clusters, one is hoping that NDDB would take the lead to replicate the success story for milk.
Dr Kurein was clear in his mind that while technology was important, managing people was the critical or the key factor in the success of an organisation. Towards this end, he founded the Institute of Rural Management Anand to provide a steady supply of professionals, not just for milk co-operatives, but also for rural enterprises, and enterprises which had rural India as a key focus. It is true that contrary to his expectations, many of the alumni have moved into corporate world—but their knowledge and understanding of rural economy stays with them, and they become better managers. IRMA also offers in-service programmes for those already engaged in co-operative sector, as also for those engaged in voluntary sector and civil society organisations.
Less well known is the fact that he helped establish the Centre for Co-operatives and Rural Development at the LBS National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie. He gave a corpus of Rs 1 crore in 1995 to fund the centre to Develop new case studies on successful interventions in rural India. As he would say in his lectures at the academy, the Amul story has been documented many times over! If Amul was successful, there would be many other examples. The CCRD played an important role in advocating reforms in co-op policy, especially for self-reliant and mutually-aided co-operative societies. He was also instrumental in setting up the Co-op Initiative panel (together with LC Jain and Mohan Dharia) as he felt that the growth of the co-op sector was being stifled on account of mechanical application of the letter of co-op legislation.
Readers may like to know if this writer met him or interacted with him. Well, one has heard him on several occasions: as a guest speaker at the IAS Academy, Mussoorie (two occasions) CIP (three occasions) and I also had the opportunity of calling on him when I was CEO of Himalayan Milk Union, Darjeeling. In this meeting, I pressed for the rehabilitation of the Milk Union which had suffered major losses on account of the GNLF agitation. He told me categorically that while NDDB would support the proposal of the Government of West Bengal, but it was time IAS officers left the management of milk unions to professionals!
By Sanjeev Chopra
(An IAS Officer, the author is Joint Secretary & Mission Director, National Horticulture Mission, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.)