A high-level committee set up by the government to study the issue of milk price hike will submit its report on Wednesday.
The Cabinet would discuss the issue before taking a decision, Minister for Food, Civil Supplies and Animal Husbandry C. Divakaran told The Hindu.
The committee, headed by Additional Chief Secretary P.K. Mohanty, was appointed in the wake of a demand raised by the Kerala Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (Milma) to raise the price of the packaged milk distributed by it. Representatives of Milma, Kerala Livestock Development Board and farm experts are members of the committee.
Milma had sought government permission to increase the price of milk by Rs. 5 a litre. The milk cooperative body, consisting of three regional wings of Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam and Malabar, has been finding it difficult to cater to the demand from consumers.
Out of the 10.5 lakh litres of milk supplied by Milma every day, less than half is procured within the State. The remaining is brought from States such as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The quantity of milk arriving from these States too registered a decline recently and Milma had to import milk powder from Ireland to meet the demand.
The non-remunerative prices had been one of the perennial complaints of dairy farmers and a study conducted by O. Reddy, a scientist of National Dairy Research Institute, Bangalore, had indicated high input costs as one of the reasons behind the phenomenon. Most of the farmers were leaving the sector in search of more profitable occupations.
The State government, with a view to streamlining the dairy sector, had commissioned a study on the problems under an expert committee headed by R. Hali, former Director of Agriculture. A series of measures, including revamping of Milma, and a concurrent audit system had been recommended by the committee.
The Cabinet, while taking up the issue of milk price hike, would have to consider the political fallout of the decision. While the government is making efforts to contain the price rise of commodities, a hike in milk price could be utilised by rival political camps to their advantage. Milma is a cooperative body dominated by the United Democratic Front (UDF).
The government's earlier stand on the issue was to extend support to dairy farmers instead of increasing the market price of packaged milk. Providing cattle feed at cheaper rates has been one of the measures accepted in principle, but experts pointed out that the quality of cattle feed made by the State-owned manufacturing unit had been declining, a phenomenon which affected the yield.
An effective monitoring set-up would have to be in place to ensure that dairy farmers benefitted from the hike in milk prices, an informed source said on condition of anonymity. It could be on the model of the monitoring system for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
Keywords: milk price hike