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Verghese Kurien: Driving force behind the White Revolution

By HT School,

Verghese Kurien had won Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan.

In 2013, the Amar Chitra Katha comic books had published the book titled Verghese Kurien: The Man with the Billion Litre Idea. The synopsis of the book reads - ‘The story of Dr. Kurien is the story of Amul.’ Illustration: Gajanan Nirphale

This visionary and architect of India’s White Revolution helped form a cooperative milk producers’ union in Gujarat popularly known as Amul Dairy. On Kurien’s 100th birth anniversary today, here is a look at the life of the man who helped make India one of the world’s largest milk producers.
Born on November 26, 1921 to a civil surgeon in Kozhikode, Kerala, Kurien attended the Loyola College, Chennai, and graduated in Physics in 1940 before joining the College of Engineering, Guindy, from where he qualified as a mechanical engineer. He joined the Tata Steel Technical Institute in Jamshedpur before moving to the United States to study at the Michigan State University on government scholarship. In 1948, he earned a Master’s of Science degree in mechanical engineering.

On return from the US in 1949, the Union government deputed him to a creamery at Anand, Gujarat, where he was to serve five years as an officer in the dairy division. There he met Tribhuvandas Patel, who was trying to unite the farmers to form a cooperative movement and to fight exploitation.

Inspired by the man, Kurien decided to join him. Patel formed a cooperative named as the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union Limited but though he faced immense pressure from a competing dairy business, Polson Dairy, Kurien decided to continue supporting Patel’s endeavours. Formed in 1946, the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union Limited, which soon came to be popularly known as Amul Dairy, played a significant role in India’s White Revolution that was aimed at transforming a hitherto milk-deficient nation into one of the largest milk producers of the world.

Kurien’s friend and dairy expert HM Dalaya invented a method of making milk powder and condensed milk from buffalo milk. It revolutionised the Indian dairy industry as till that point such processed items could be made only with cow’s milk.

The Amul Dairy became so successful that the model was soon replicated in many of its neighbouring districts of Gujarat. His groundbreaking work prompted then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri to set up the National Dairy Development Board in 1965 to expand the cooperative programme to all corners of the country.

Kurien was named chairman of the organisation. In 1979, he founded the Institute of Rural Management in Anand to groom managers for the cooperatives. In 2006, he quit as the chairman of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation following dwindling support from new members on the governing board and mounting dissent from his proteges, some of whom termed his working style as being dictatorial. Some of those moves were backed by political forces that sought to make inroads into district unions of the cooperative dairy.

Personal life
Kurien was married to Molly and the couple had a daughter named Nirmala. Having lived a productive life, he died in 2012 aged 90 after a brief illness.

Awards and achievements
A lifelong learner who saw education as a never-ending process, Kurien was bestowed with honorary degrees by the Michigan State University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. In recognition for services to the dairy and farming communities, he received many honours such as the Padma Shri (1965), Padma Bhushan (1966) and Padma Vibhushan (1999), Ramon Magsaysay Award (1963) and World Food Prize (1989).

Kurien authored I Too Had A Dream, an inspiring narrative about the empowerment of farmers and development of milk cooperatives India. Atul Bhide produced the audio version of the book.

Shyam Benegal made a film called Manthan that was based on the milk movement in India and the man behind it — Verghese Kurien. It was crowd-funded by 500,000 farmers who donated ~2 each.

Under Kurien’s leadership, several companies were launched. Former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri created National Dairy Development Board based on Amul’s work model and pattern.

In 2013, the Amar Chitra Katha comic books had published the book titled Verghese Kurien: The Man with the Billion Litre Idea. The synopsis of the book reads - ‘The story of Dr. Kurien is the story of Amul.’