Editor's Note: Tamil Nadu's milk and dairy products minister Rajendra Balaji recently attacked private dairy firms in the state, accusing them of mixing harmful chemicals in the milk they sell. The state Milk Dealers' Association raised strong objections but the minister stuck fast to his claim. In this two-part series, Firstpost investigates the validity of Balaji's charge and the industry's contention.
Minister KT Rajendra Balaji, who holds the dairy development portfolio in Tamil Nadu, is facing flak for what appear to be unsubstantiated comments that 'privately produced milk in the state is adulterated'.
Critics are pointing to various flaws in his reasoning. One, that he has not revealed the results of the sample analyses done by the state government that show the presence of chemicals in private milk.
Secondly, the minister has been flip-flopping on his statements regarding milk adulteration (as explained in the first part of this series). In late May, he stated that there was adulteration and by the end of June, he decided that there was none.
Thirdly, the most recent statement by the minister on adulteration of dairy whiteners relies on analyses done at a private lab, which is not accredited by the state or central government.
Private milk producers are furious as they level counter allegations at the minister. "There is a system in place by which a certain amount of money does go to any minister and officials from our side," said the managing director of a popular private milk company, on condition of anonymity.
"But after J Jayalalithaa's death, the demands have increased. How much can we give? So we all decided that if we don’t stop this practice now, it will only get worse. These allegations are a result of this issue," he said.
Tamil Nadu Milk Dealers' Association's president K Ponnusamy told Firstpost a similar tale. "The minister is doing all this with a personal agenda in mind. He is trying to threaten us by going to the press with such allegations," he said.
The minister reacts
When queried about the allegations of corruption levelled against him, Balaji told Firstpost, "I have not taken even five paise from anybody. Milk is an essential item in the lives of the common people and the poor. I am unable to accept adulteration in milk – something that is fed to babies. This is why I have taken up this issue strongly. I do not even bother if I am forced to resign," he said.
Another criticism levelled at the minister was that he had not taken any action against those private milk companies which were allegedly selling adulterated milk. The state government, in its 19 June affidavit before the Madras High Court, submitted that 143 cases had been filed regarding milk adulteration along with Rs 10.26 lakh in penalties. They also stated that 81 convictions had been obtained in these cases between August 2011 and May 2017.
When questioned as to why none of the companies were shut down, if they were indeed selling adulterated milk, as per his claim, Balaji told Firstpost that he did not have the powers to shut down any plants. "The chief minister has given me full freedom to act on this issue. But as dairy development minister, I do not have the powers to shut down operations of these companies. I have requested the state health department to take necessary action," he said. No action has been forthcoming from the health department so far either.
Political outcry continues
Since late May, Balaji has been the talk of the state, with his statements on milk adulteration even rocking the floor of the state Assembly almost every day since the session began on 14 June.
The leader of Opposition and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's working president MK Stalin has demanded a judicial probe into the allegations made by the minister. "It is clear that he (Balaji) would have known about it (milk adulteration) earlier. The question is why the government has not taken action," he told media persons.
BJP leader and MoS (Road Transport and Shipping) Pon Radhakrishnan demanded the minister's resignation. "The minister has been making false claims and creating panic among the public over milk adulteration. He must resign," he said.
Meanwhile, Aavin sales rise
In the midst of this slugfest, it is state-run milk producer Aavin that has benefited the most. From an average sales figure of 25 lakh litres per day, Aavin's sales have shot up by 5.5 lakh litres per day in the month of June.
But the private milk producers still hold the largest chunk of the milk market at around 1.2 crore litres of sales per day. Many private companies have also reduced their procurement price by Rs two per litre from dairy farmers in the state as a result of this controversy.
Balaji had reiterated to Firstpost on 28 June that people should beware of drinking milk sold by private companies. "You can trust Aavin 100 percent. We are capable of increasing our capacity, no matter how much the demand rises," he said.
At the end of the day though, Tamil Nadu's mothers and the aged are faced with a dilemma. Whether to believe the minister or to simply go ahead and have their glass of milk.
Read part one of the series: Veritable health crisis or is the dairy minister milking the controversy?
Published Date: Jul 05, 2017 11:09 am | Updated Date: Jul 05, 2017 11:20 am