Jan 1, 2011 – A cross the Yamuna and the river Hindon, which now appears like a dirty drain, I head towards the suburbs of New Delhi in Greater Noida. Across swathes of highrise buildings, factories and the prosperity of a shining India, I travel to visit the aam aadmi. This is the land of the Mahabharata; it was here that the famous Pandavas, who defeated the Kauravas and Karan, were looted of their belongings by the local tribes.

It is a sad sight today. In India’s thriving democracy, the descendants of these daring warriors
and farmers have been cheated of their land by successive governments through their policies of land acquisition. Greater Noida is the bright star of the state of Uttar Pradesh. It has the best infrastructure and brings to the state and its leaders unparalleled revenue. This reality is a nightmare of lost dreams and aspirations for the local farmers.

Rajni Devi and her husband, Chowdhary Bihari Singh, both members of the Bharat Krishak Samaj are residents of village Roopwas in Tehsil Dadri, District Gautam Budh Nagar, Uttar Pradesh. She is a lady of great distinction. The only lady pradhan (village head) of the district, she was also the first to be elected unopposed in 1988. Those were the days when “the other ladies of the villages asked their husbands: were there no men in the village that they had to choose a lady pradhan”. Since then she has been elected many times; no eyebrows are raised any more.

Rajni Devi is a dairy farmer while her husband is quite a famous social activist in Ghaziabad and the adjoining districts; his name is synonymous with the dairy sector. He has fought successive governments over land acquisition policies and for increased compensation. He talks of the consequences of the loot of farmer’s land by the government over the years. “The compensation for acquired land in Noida was Rs 3 per square metre in 1976. Today, the price of the same land, developed at a very marginal cost, is Rs 600,000 per square metre.” The pain of a society cheated of its ancestral land, fortune and the future is palpable.

Even today the price of agricultural land around village Roopwas is Rs 4,500 per square metre and the land acquisition rate is only Rs 700 per square metre along with some incentives to lure farmers, in order to stem any protests. The price for land acquisition has just increased from Rs 60 to Rs 700 over the last 20 years. From being owners of land and pride, the people have been forced to become employees of migrant factory owners. Their resentment is understandable.

Land around Roopwas was acquired by the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) in 1991. The original rate of acquisition was Rs 8 per square metre. After a three-year agitation led by Bihari Singh, the rate was increased to Rs 88. Ram Saran Das, the then Revenue Minister of Uttar Pradesh forced NTPC to undertake development work worth Rs 16 crore in 20 villages in 1992. The Corporation was also forced to employ 181 boys as Class IV employees at its plant. In hindsight, what seemed as a victory then was actually a lost battle. Out-smarted because of their inability to look into the realty future, farmers have been fooled by successive governments, who act like the private sector luring farmers with short-term gains.

Bihariji also helped start the “milkman’s train”, which runs from Dhankad station to Delhi and halts at places like Ajaipur and Dadri. More than 1, 700 people from 200 villages still travel on this train with their milk cans at 4 o’clock in the morning and return to their villages by 10 am to do another roundtrip from 3 to 8 pm every day. Bihari Singh was a close associate of the late Indira Gandhi and, on his recommendation, she directed then Finance Minister, T. A. Pai, to start a milk-for-millions programme. Under this, farmers only had to sign a Rs 2 stamp paper affidavit to procure a loan to buy a buffalo, then costing between Rs 2,000 and Rs 3,000. Up to 10,000 cattle were distributed in and around Ghaziabad under this programme with an impressive 96 per cent bank loan recovery from the farmers. Rajni Devi now feels sad that “banks have become inaccessible to farmers and one needs a tout to complete the paperwork in addition to providing security unlike before. Farmers have become irrelevant in the last decade”, she rues.

Rajni Devi is a good businesswoman and has the numbers at her finger tips. The milk was sold for Rs 2 per litre in 1971. After 30 years, today it is Rs 21 per litre. This is distressing, given the rate of inflation and prices of other commodities. To make matters worse, milk production in the village has fallen to one fifth because most of the land has been acquired and there is little land to grow green fodder. One needs an acre of land to feed green fodder to seven animals. This could vary from place to place but the declining space has made dairying unviable because one is forced to buy green fodder crops like Barseem, Javi (oats) from October to March, Makka (maize), Bajra (millet) and Jawar (sorghum) from April to September. These are used in combination with bhusa (wheat straw).

In the dry months of May, June and July only bhusa is used because green fodder is not available. She also uses Taj Gold brand superfine feed from Kaithal, Haryana, in combination with other homegrown fodder. While green fodder costs Rs 1.50 a kg, bhusa is Rs 4 a kg and cattle feed Rs 12 a kg. A combination of all these, costing around Rs 100, is to be fed to the animal every day. Barseem is very good protein source for the animal.

The livestock has other critical uses at home because Rajni Devi uses gobar gas (biogas made from dung) for cooking. In winters, the gas output drops because of the cold. However, it can be an expensive proposition to buy quality animal resource. “A good cow costs around Rs 40,000 and a good buffalo Rs 80,000”. A relative of her neighbour recently sold his buffalo for Rs 160,000 in Fathebad, Haryana, she says. No wonder Rajni Devi prefers to keep Holstein cows rather than desi cows. The ‘Murra’ buffalo is a common breed.

Rajni Devi explains the milk economics. From a litre of milk, 150 grams to 200 grams of cream can be obtained and the remaining milk can still be sold. Pure milk is commonly standardised to have six per cent fat. The cows at her farm produce milk with 10 per cent fat. Cow’s milk, she explains, has 4.5 per cent fat and buffalo’s eight per cent. A Murra gives up to
17 litres of milk per day, for six months a year, for 10 years and a H4 Holstein cow (also called HF) gives up to 28 litres a day, for eight months in a year, for 14 years while a desi ‘Sahiwal’ cow only gives 18 litres per day for seven months in a year for 13 years. An H4 Holstein is dark in colour with white patches.

Yet good livestock is a source for good milk, which is increasingly difficult to find. Rajni Devi explains: “Delhi has no pure khoya (pure thickened milk). Milk powder, potatoes and arrowroot (singhada) are mixed to make khoya. Butter oil, which is imported into the country is made from animal fat and sold as desi ghee (home-made clarified butter) by Indian manufacturers. Adulterated milk is very common and it gets into the milk collection system easily. It is difficult to check for adulteration.” The quantity of milk produced in the village has dropped, “so no private company procures milk from here and villagers still travel to Dadri or Delhi to sell their milk”. This redoubtable lady shakes her head in sorrow.

There are also health issues for animals. True, there is a “government veterinary doctor but he comes irregularly and charges Rs 250 per visit”. If he is not available, “the cattle have to be taken to the veterinary hospital”. There are problems within the community itself. “Mahila Dairy Groups were started but were not successful due to the constant disagreements between the ladies themselves”. There are additional costs too; of insurance, for instance. Many states refund the cost of annual insurance, which is four per cent of the valuation of the animal. Normally the valuation is 80 per cent of the market value and if an animal dies one gets 90 per cent valuation of the animal. There is also the question of hard-to-hire farm hands. Rajni Devi says that “it is difficult to find people to look after cattle even after paying Rs 6,000. The cow is the ultimate creature of habit. A cow, which is loved by the owner, is not only better behaved but also gives more and better milk, everything else remains the same”.

As for the farmer; he survives not so much on how much money he makes but on much he does not spend! Worthy words of rustic wisdom.