Suryakant Pandhare is a milk producing farmer from Akole in Ahmednagar. The three cows he has produce around 35 litres of milk between them. Before the second COVID-19 lockdown in the state he was making around Rs 1,300. However, with rates of milk down since almost a month, Suryakant's earnings have dropped to Rs 750. The private dairy where he sells milk on a daily basis told him that the demand of milk has slipped more than 30% due to the lockdown.
"I feel that they are cheating us. Have people stopped drinking milk at home? How has demand dropped so much then?" an angry Suryakant asked. His anger and that of others will be seen on the roads across the state on June 17 with the farmers having decided to protest in Maharashtra.
All India Kisan Sabha's Maharashtra chapter has given a protest call on June 17. Its state general secretary Dr. Ajit Navale has asked farmers to unite and reach every tehsil office. "The cartel sitting in the state government and private dairies are cheating farmers from the state. They are earning huge profits of almost 20 rupees per litre. This is loot. This has to be stopped and that is why farmers have to come out on the road," said Dr. Navale.
Maharashtra's daily milk collection goes upto one crore 30 lakh litres. Out of it, around 40 lakh litres of milk is used for making milk powder and in similar industries. The remaining milk is packed and sold in pouches. "Even if we assume that demand has gone down due to hotels being closed, one can't imagine that the domestic demand too has similarly gone down. People are still buying milk. The milk shops are open. Home delivery of milk is an essential service. That means there is no major drop in demand. Then why have rates gone down by almost 45%?," asked Dr Navale.
Bajirao Patil from Osmanabad's Bhoom teshil has decided to sit in protest for an entire day against dairies and the state government. "It is duty of the government to protect our interests. But, as many of the politicians are owners of various private dairies or control other cooperative dairies, they are keeping mum on this loot. This is why we will protest against the state government," said Patil.
Maharashtra has been witnessing a 'reduction in milk demand' for a second consecutive year. Even in the last lockdown farmers had faced similar issues. Later, as markets opened around October 2020 the state government intervened to bring back normalcy in milk rates. But by then farmers had already faced huge losses in the past four months.
"Dairy is a cash business for farmers. It gives them money for immediate household needs as well as for agriculture. So, the fall in rates of milk hurt farmers on a daily basis. This is why the urgent intervention by the government is required," said senior journalist Maruti Kandale.
Total number of milk producing farmers in state has gone upto 60 lakhs. Out of them, around 40 lakhs are directly connected to private or cooperative dairies, a huge number. No state government can afford to keep so many farmers angry for long.