On the ninth day of the floods on August 12, a video went viral from Sukhwadi village, Palus tehsil of Sangli district. A man who returned to his home after the water receded was showing dead cattle in his yard. He lost 16 cattle in the flood as his cattle yard is very close to Krishna river. That video brought tears to many eyes.
The other aspect of the video depicts the damage caused to the dairy industry of Maharashtra. Almost 12 days after the floods hit the three districts, Kolhapur, Sangli and Satara, the dairy industry has come to a standstill.
"We collect 10 lakh litre milk per day. For almost eight days, we could not collect a single litre of milk – which means a total of almost 80 lakh litres. You can imagine the losses," said Dhananjay Mahadik, director of Maharashtra's largest cooperative dairy, Gokul, in Kolhapur.
The challenges for diary industry start from the cattle yards. Almost 170 animals have died (bodies recovered from floods till August 14). This number could further rise. At the same time, thousands of cows and buffalos have been standing in the rains, without roofs on yards. This will damage the quality of their milk and may also reduce milk output. It will require at least three months to recover and reach normalcy in quality as well as quantity, say dairy industry sources.
Sanjay Babar, 32, a farmer from Khochi village of Hatkanangale tehsil was trying to repair his cattleyard when Newsclick visited his farm situated on the bank of Warana river. His sugarcane field still had water almost up to 4 feet.
Sanjay Babar at his cattle yard.
"I am facing a loss of almost Rs 50,000 on this cattleyard alone. Also, we have four cows and two buffalos. Now we have kept them on another farm. For 12 days, this dairy was totally closed. So, we are facing a loss of 70 litres a day. We get Rs 20 per litre, so we are losing Rs 1,400 a day," Sanjay said. There are thousands of farmers like Sanjay who are facing this crisis.
Chitale Dairy is the largest private dairy in Sangli district that collects more than five lakh litres of milk per day. It's owner DB Chitale alias Kakasaheb is one of the most respected industrial leaders from Maharashtra, and has often given a number suggestions to revive the economy.
"The dairy business directly depends on farmers. If we fail to help and rehabilitate them, it will ultimately affect the dairy business. That’s why the state government needs to take a holistic approach in relief work," Said Chitale.
Kaksaheb Chitale at his famous chitale dairy.
His dairy faced almost 1.5 lakh litre daily shortage for 10 days. "In that period, we stopped producing dairy byproducts and focused only on milk distribution. That's why we haven't faced so much of a loss. Also, we could carry milk to mega cities, such as Pune, due to transport connectivity. That helped us. But the impact on cattle in the flood area is huge and we have now started facing a number of problems," he added.
The Maharashtra government's policy regarding dead cattle in flood-affected areas is also under heavy criticism. It is giving only Rs 30,000 per cattle. "Our one cow goes for about Rs 70,000. One buffalo sometimes fetches Rs 1 lakh. But we are getting only Rs 30,000 as compensation. How can a farmer survive in this amount?" said Ashok Chougule of Arjunwad village from Shirol tehsil.
Milk production is a business for farmers which earns them hard cash on a daily basis, which helps them fulfil their daily needs. At the same time, it is highly demanding business in terms of investments as well as hard work. Despite such challenges, the hardworking farmers of Western Maharashtra have maintained the quality of the milk over the years. In their tough days, the government should go an extra mile and give them a helping hand.