Verghese Kurien: rare visionary and astute manager (Tribute)

September 10th, 2012 - 4:54 pm ICT by IANS  

The demise of Dr Verghese Kurien marks the end of an era. During this era, an import dependent milk deficit nation - where availability per capita per day was 117 gm - not only became self-sufficient at 220 gm per capita per day but also achieved the laurel of becoming the largest milk producing nation. This period would always be remembered as a golden chapter in the annals of the Indian dairy industry!

My association with Dr Kurien began over four decades ago when I joined as an engineer at the formative stage of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) at Anand, Gujarat, during the late 1960s. With the growth of NDDB, I also grew and became its executive director cum board member and finally retired in 1996. Thus, I had the privilege to be one of those members who were involved under the leadership of Dr Kurien in rolling out the globally acknowledged white revolution in India.

Dr Kurien was the rare visionary who always translated his vision on mission mode. His creation of community owned cooperatives empowered millions of rural families, mostly landless and small farmers, in India. Though he was professionally an engineer, he had an astute sense of management and marketing. He marketed the “Anand Success Story” as a management model for rural institutional development wherein a commodity was used as a tool for socio-economic development. He attempted to replicate the Anand Model nationally through the launching Operation Flood Programme (OFP).

He believed that the rural development process required professional transformation. With this vision in mind, he not only succeeded in establishing the Institute of Rural Management (IRMA) but also created several grassroots institutions especially to provide skill-oriented training. Amongst these, Tribhuvan Das Foundation was a landmark.

Dr Kurien had a unique style of public management. Though he was known to be a great critic of the Indian bureaucratic system, to get his mission achieved, especially when the situation so warranted, he skilfully used them against their political masters. Whenever he found any obstruction to his proposal from the bureaucratic system, he used his political contacts for its clearance.

Managers in the public sector delivery system sometimes faced undue political pressures, which do reflect on their functioning. Dr Kurien, however, ensured that his managers were protected, whenever similar situations arose in NDDB. Though Dr Kurien was known for his authoritative style of functioning, he always delegated greater responsibility to his subordinates and ensured their smoother functioning.

The liquid milk marketing in the Indian metro and major cities by the formal sector was initially a big task. These markets used to be commanded by the informal sector, consisting of milk dwellers/khattal owners and private milk traders. Several attempts were made through legislations to remove city milk dwellers/khattal owners in India but they failed due to inadequate milk supply from the formal milk sector - there was also political patronage.

Being an ace marketer, Dr Kurien thought of a way to resolve the problem - a market milk intervention programme at the nation level would be the better solution. He, therefore, established a national milk grid, under the Operation Flood programme. Through the milk grid he ensured that surpluses from higher milk produce areas reached deficit areas. At the demand side, he established Mother Dairy and bulk vending system which could deliver loose hygienic milk at a reasonable price to the urban consumers in competition with the loose milk supplied by city milk dwellers/khattal owners.

Dr Kurien was a great believer in innovation. Amongst his several initiatives, the development of the automatic milk bulk vending system to compete with the urban liquid milk dwellers was exemplary! It was re-engineered from a similar loose (pasteurized) liquid milk supply system established by M/s Conosupo, in Mexico. The vending system was invented originally by M/s Rowe International of USA. The re-engineered Indian bulk vending system was established as more functional and economical than the original system!

With the development of the automatic milk bulk vending system, the Mother Dairy concept was shaped, focusing the perception of supplying the purest form of mother’s milk to her children. The whole re-engineering exercise finally led to an innovation of a branded hygienic loose (unpacked) city milk supply system, in India!

I met Dr. Kurien last a few months ago during his 90th birthday celebration organised by the Karnataka Milk Federation in Bangalore. Though he was physically not well, his mind still sparkled.

(Animesh Banerjee is advisor, dairy food sector, former executive director of NDDB and president of the Indian Dairy Industry. He may be contacted at banerjeeanimesh@rediffmail.com)

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