Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi on Monday called milk producers, who have been on strike for the past one week demanding a hike in procurement prices, for talks on Tuesday.

A committee of Ministers comprising Arcot N. Veeraswami, K. Ponmudy and U. Mathivanan would hold negotiations with them. As a gesture of goodwill, the government decided to withdraw cases against those who carried out the agitation, Mr. Karunanidhi said in a statement.

The Tamil Nadu Milk Producers Welfare Association, which spearheaded the agitation, thereafter announced immediate withdrawal of the strike. Its president, K.A. Sengottuvel, told the media in Salem that the milk producers welcomed the Chief Minister's call for talks “whole-heartedly.”

He thanked the Chief Minister for withdrawing the cases registered against the milk producers.

Mr. Karunanidhi said the procurement prices were hiked only last month. As a sequel to the negotiations chaired by Deputy Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, the price of cow milk was increased by Rs. 1.10 per litre and that of buffalo milk by Rs.2.20 per litre. This burden was not passed on to consumers.

Regretting that those who should regard milk as holy poured it on streets, the Chief Minister said that his government had always been considerate and sympathetic in solving the people's problems if there were legitimate demands. Never in the past were the procurement prices hiked four times in four-and-a-half years.

Mr. Mathivanan told The Hindu that at the existing rates, milk procurement cost Rs. 1,440 crore to the authorities annually. Of the daily production of 20 lakh litres, supply to Chennai was 10.5 lakh litres and to the other parts of the State, 3.75 lakh litres. The remainder was used for the production of by-products.

Supporting the milk producers' demand, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Jayalalithaa criticised the government for its handling of the problem.

D. Pandian, State Secretary of the Communist Party of India, said the procurement price of cow milk should be increased by Rs. 5 a litre and in respect of buffalo milk, Rs. 8 a litre.