A PROB­LEM OF PU­RITY

The re­cent raids against milk chill­ing units in Mad­hya Pradesh show that food adul­ter­ation is a clear and present dan­ger

India Today - - MADHYA PRADESH - BY RAHUL NORONHA

In the last week of July, Spe­cial Task Force (STF) sleuths dis­guised as doo­d­hias (a col­lo­quial term for milk­men) be­gan surveil­ing the Van Khan­desh­wari milk chill­ing plant at Am­bah, in Morena, Mad­hya Pradesh. They had re­ceived cred­i­ble in­tel­li­gence that the sale of spu­ri­ous milk in the area had spiked, likely due to the festive sea­son, when de­mand surges. And when they com­pared the amount of raw milk be­ing de­liv­ered to Van Khan­desh­wari to the amount leav­ing it, a huge mis­match had been re­vealed.

De­spite ex­pect­ing to find adul­ter­ation tak­ing place, when cops raided the plant two days later, the scale of the op­er­a­tion they found was stun­ning. The plant was stocked with hun­dreds of ki­los of chem­i­cals, oils and de­ter­gents. Thousands of litres of ‘syn­thetic milk’ were be­ing pro­duced and sent on to pack­ag­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion units. This pack­aged ‘milk’ was then be­ing sold all across the re­gion, in­clud­ing in ma­jor cities like the na­tional cap­i­tal, Gur­gaon and Noida.

Al­legedly, what the STF found was only the tip of the ice­berg. Sources say that both chem­i­cal sup­pli­ers and lo­cal officials are part of the larger racket. Since the state’s Food and Drugs Ad­min­is­tra­tion (FDA) officials gen­er­ally spend years posted to the same re­gion, some say that un­healthily cosy re­la­tion­ships have de­vel­oped be­tween dairy units and the au­thor­i­ties re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing them. What is also telling is that those in the Gwalior-Cham­bal re­gion who can af­ford to do so gen­er­ally keep their own cat­tle for milk—lo­cals are un­doubt­edly all too aware of the scale of the racket.

A week after the raid on Van Khan­desh­wari, a state-wide crack­down was launched, with agen­cies ex­pand­ing their in­ves­ti­ga­tion to in­clude prod­ucts other than milk. Those ar­rested in the raids—in­clud­ing those from Khan­desh­wari and nearby re­gions, in­clud­ing Morena, Gwalior and Uj­jain—have been charged un­der the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Act (NSA). How­ever, these events have led to a num­ber of ques­tions: what are the eco­nom­ics of the racket, and who

are the key play­ers? Is the gov­ern­ment re­sponse ad­e­quate, or is it merely a stop­gap ar­range­ment to quell public anger? And, most im­por­tantly, why is adul­ter­ation thriv­ing in Bhind and Morena?

Bhind and Morena—dis­tricts that were once in­fested with da­coit gangs— have large Gu­j­jar pop­u­la­tions that are ex­ten­sively en­gaged in cat­tle-rear­ing and as­so­ci­ated ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing dairy. Agri­cul­ture is not very re­mu­ner­a­tive, given the un­du­lat­ing, ravine­marked lands of the re­gion. Man­u­fac­tur­ing is al­most en­tirely ab­sent. Con­se­quently, milk and dairy prod­ucts con­sti­tute an im­por­tant part of the ru­ral econ­omy. The Cham­bal re­gion also has a long-stand­ing rep­u­ta­tion for law­less­ness and weak gov­er­nance, lead­ing to ram­pant cor­rup­tion.

Adul­ter­ation, for in­stance, is not lim­ited to the dairy in­dus­try. The STF is now clos­ing in on a thriv­ing ed­i­ble oil adul­ter­ation racket in the re­gion as well. Since mus­tard is an im­por­tant lo­cal crop, sev­eral oil mills also op­er­ate in the area, and there are fre­quent re­ports of mus­tard oil be­ing adul­ter­ated with cheap rice bran and palm oil. “Adul­ter­ated oil is pre­pared as per mar­ket re­quire­ments and de­pend­ing on the taste that is in de­mand in a given re­gion,” says a worker at one of Morena’s oil mills, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity. “Ev­ery­one is in­volved, from in­ter-state [au­thor­i­ties], the food and drugs depart­ment and the po­lice.”

HOW IT HAP­PENS

The dairy in­dus­try be­gins with cat­tle farm­ers and trans­porters. Trans­porters col­lect milk from farm­ers twice a day, de­liv­er­ing it to lo­cal chill­ing units. Be­fore be­ing ac­cepted, the milk is checked for pu­rity—not reg­u­larly, but ran­domly—us­ing a lac­tome­ter. Once ac­cepted, the milk is chilled to about 1 de­gree Cel­sius, be­fore be­ing loaded onto tankers and sent to pro­cess­ing units, where it is pack­aged/ pro­cessed into milk pow­der, etc. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, adul­ter­ation takes place at chill­ing units, sim­ply be­cause of the vol­ume of milk pass­ing through these lo­ca­tions. The process by which ‘syn­thetic milk’ is made in­volves the use of re­fined oil or vanas­pati, soap and sham­poo, aside from sev­eral other chem­i­cals. In tests con­ducted by lac­tome­ters—which mea­sure the fat con­tent of a liq­uid—this sort of spu­ri­ous milk passes with fly­ing colours, as a re­sult of the oil mixed into it.

The scale of the prob­lem is enor­mous. “In Bhind and Morena alone, there are es­ti­mated to be more than 200 chill­ing units,” says Amit Singh, su­per­in­ten­dent of po­lice, STF, Gwalior. And the seizures made by STF sleuths from

ADUL­TER­ATION TAKES PLACE MAINLY IN THE CHILL­ING UNITS, DUE TO THE VOL­UMES THAT TRAN­SIT THROUGH THEM

PANKAJ TI­WARI

WHAT’S IN THERE? Milk be­ing col­lected at Van Khan­desh­wari chill­ing plant, Morena

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