Indian cows are not worshipped because of their milk yields. Providing only about 400 litres per animal per year they are among the world's worst. Cows in some countries manage 7,000 litres. And the main reason for India's poor performance is that the cows,like their owners,don't get fed very well.
One shining exception to this, however, has been the producers' cooperative at Anand in Gujarat. This collects milk from its members and sells it for them, as well as providing veterinary services. The co-op has spawned a huge dairy company called Amul and the whole operation turns over about $130m a year.
The 'Anand pattern', and in particular the work of its original motive force, Dr. Verghese Kurien, is now being used as the basis for 'Operation Flood' - a massive dairy development programme that is supposed to herald India's 'White Revolution'.
Kurien's earlier efforts to liberate the small milk producer from the clutches of the middleman attracted enthusiastic support and money from outside. One of the biggest grants to the co-operative came from Oxfam in the UK and Anand's success certainly justified their faith. Today it is one of the best organised production and marketing operations in the country. And Kurien himself has gone on to become a national figure: he is now Chairman both of the Indian Dairy Development Board and of the Indian Dairy Corporation.
But Operation Flood was to have a slightly different mechanism. The funds were to come from selling in India surplus EEC milk. The money generated by redissolving the European milk mountain would be invested in improving Indian production and in building up a modern milk distribution system. Thus India's cows would become an object of economic as well as religious veneration and the EEC would get rid of an embarassing surplus as well as gaining a new market for its processing equipment.
But since the inception of the programme in 1970 things have not happened in quite that order. The milk arrived, as did the shining new chilling and packing equipment. And the consumers of Delhi, Bombay, Madras and Calcutta have had a lot more milk to drink. But little of significance has happened to the local cows. By 1978 Delhi was drinking twice as much milk, but whereas previously a quarter used to be imported now the proportion was up to a half.
The reason is not hard to find. Although the original idea was to spend over half the money on increased production and the rest on distribution, in the end only 25 per cent was invested in improving Indian output. And of that one fifth went to Gujarat where it was needed least. As well as supplying Bombay, Gujarat is now sending milk the huge distances to Delhi and Calcutta.
The programme has done little for the poorest Indian milk producers. The traditional cattle rearers are marginal people - the landless or widows whose cattle graze on common land. They are in no position to buy fodder and certainly not the feed concentrates needed by the cross-breed cows envisaged in Operation Flood. Indeed even at Anand two thirds of the co-operative members are Patels, a relatively wealthy caste and by no means landless. And whereas women are traditionally in charge of milkproduction only ten per cent of the co-operative members are women.
As for the cows themselves, while they go hungry India exports cattle feed to Europe - where it is converted into milk and sent back to India. In 1977 1.4 million tons of cattle feed were exported. This is equivalent to 2.8 million tons of milk - ten times the quantity gifted in Operation Flood.
Despite the dubious results of Operation Food I the end of last year saw the launch of Operation Flood II with aid to the tune of $600m - a combination of donated food and a World Bank loan. Many Indians are puzzled. For whose benefit is the project being extended? Whether it will do anything other than make India's cities even more reliant on imported milk and dairy equipment remains to be seen.