New Delhi: The Swadeshi Jagran Manch, the Sangh affiliate known more for its stands against the government than for it, has now taken up the cause of the cash cow that is India's dairy industry.
And this time it has taken the Modi government head on, accusing the Ministry of Commerce of "twisting data" and virtually favouring foreign dairy companies at the cost of their Indian counterparts which may result in 50 million rural job losses.
Ashwani Mahajan, chief of Swadeshi Jagran Manch has claimed that the Indian government is in final stage of negotiation to reach a free trade agreement where the member nations get India to reduce duty on dairy products so that they can get access to India which is the world's largest market for dairy products. China, Australia and New Zealand, apart from 10 ASEAN countries, Japan and South Korea are part of the contentious Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Free Trade Agreement.
Mahajan has said, "It's unfortunate that officials of Centre of Regional Trade (CRT) under Ministry of Commerce have been supporting the offer to reduce tariffs on milk and its products, by twisting the data of India's milk production and projecting a huge shortage of milk in India in coming 10 years." Mahajan's worry stems from the fact, he says, the cheap rate of dairy products from certain countries like New Zealand, which will put the domestic dairy industry out of business if the agreement is reached.
In a very strong allegation at babus in the ministry headed by Piyush Goyal, Mahajan said, "Milk producers and processors have been pleading with the Ministry of Commerce, presenting some hard facts, which are deliberately ignored by bureaucrats and consultants, pushing the deal."
Rubbishing the logic of a dairy shortage in the future, as cited by Goyal's ministry, the Sangh affiliate cites a Niti Aayog report that says, the demand for milk in India will be 292 million metric tonnes, against which India will produce 330 MMT milk, by 2033. "Thus, India will be surplus in milk products and the question of imports does not arise", says Mahajan. The RSS offshoot has gone on record to insinuate, the impending decision is in interest of farmers abroad. Mahajan asked, "Even if New Zealand exports only 5 per cent of its produce, it will be equal to 30 per cent of India's production of major dairy products like milk powder, butter, cheese etc. Same holds true for Australia where less than 6,000 farmers produce 10 MMT milk and they export more than 60 per cent of it. Then why should India include dairy products in RCEP and allow import at lower duty? Is it to double income of farmers of Australia and New Zealand?"
While, claiming the move may result in 50 million rural job losses, Mahajan alleged, "Prime Minister must know that doubling of farmers income will remain only in dreams, Indian dairy farmers' income will actually be halved..." India's US $100 billion dairy industry is a prized market for any dairy producing nation. Now with top milk producing nations scrambling to get a pie of that market, the RSS offshoot and the Modi government have come to a face-off.