MUMBAI: Agitating cattle owners have claimed milk collection has trickled to a mere 10 per cent of the normal supply even as the Maharashtra government informed the Assembly that there won't be any shortage in cities such as Mumbai.
"Every day, farmers sell around 2.40 crore litres of milk. In comparison to that, less than 25 lakh litres of milk was collected across the state," Raju Shetty of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) said. "The gap is huge, and no market has the capacity to fill this deficit of 90 per cent."
There were reports of agitators emptying milk and cattle owners distributing milk for free to villages and schools instead of selling it to the dairies. Agitators are demanding a hike of `5 per litre hike in procurement rates and want milk to be transferred directly instead of routing it through dairies. "Farmers sell milk to dairies at `17/litre which in turn goes to customers at the rate of `42/litre. The farmers need to get the share of the profit," Shetty said.
From Sunday evening, many of Shetty's supporters started blocking milk tankers from going to cities. Though the agitators were told not to spill milk, vandalism marred the agitation at several places across the state on Monday.
In the state legislature on Monday, most of the Opposition parties supported the agitation. While the Congress stressed that the government betrayed the milk producers, the NCP supported the demand raised by the SSS to give direct subsidy to milk producers.
Maharashtra State Commission of Agricultural Costs and Prices chairman Pasha Patel said that the central government has called a meeting on the issue of milk prices on Tuesday, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis told the House that the agitators were not ready for talks even though the government is ready for a dialogue.
The government has already announced a subsidy of `50/kg for export of milk powder and `5/litre for export of milk to be paid to the dairies. However, the SSS is firm on its demand for direct subsidy for milk farmers.
Shetty wants the Chief Minister or the Finance Minister to participate in the talks. "We want to speak to someone who has the authority and powers to take decisions. Hence, we said that we won't speak to dairy development minister Mahadeo Jankar."
He added the issue was about around 20 lakh litres of excess milk coming to the markets daily. "If the government ensures that all this milk is bought or is subsidised, then there won't be any issue," he said, suggesting that this can be done by tapping the Chinese market.