India will miss Verghese Kurien. The modest and soft-spoken man who sparked the white revolution to the country died early on Sunday. Five years ago, Business Today highlighted his contribution in a special issue on 60 pioneering professionals of India in its 60 years of independence. Kurien, then 85, had no airs about his achievement and the impact that his long years of work had on the lives of the poor dairy farmers.
Much has been written about him and the entities that he helped create, such as the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), which he set up to sell dairy products under the Amul brand, and the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) which he created later, in 1965.
His efforts have come a long way. GCMMF's turnover was Rs 11,700 crore last year, and is expected to touch Rs 14,000 crore this year. Yet Kurien was not one to rest on his laurels, and took a keen interest in the functioning of the Federation. R.S. Sodhi, Managing Director of GCMMF, who worked closely with him for 25 years and met him regularly - their last meeting was just two days ago - says: "He would always enquire about the organisation and its activities, and was still worried about how we were doing."
Looking back at the 57 years (1949-2006) that Kurien led the organisation, Sodhi sees him as an outstanding person whose work helped uplift millions of poor families.
The year after he left GCMMF and NDDB, Business Today wrote in its special issue:
"Had Verghese Kurien been a private equity investor, he would have retired as one of the richest men in India. Operation Flood, a movement he launched in 1970 as Chairman of National Dairy Development Board to boost milk production in the country, cost a mere Rs 1,772 crore in investment over its three phases (1970-1996). The net return into the rural economy has been estimated at a whopping Rs 24,000 crore per annum over a period of 10 years, or a total of Rs 2.4 trillion (one trillion equals 100,000 crore) in all. In the process, it helped create a network of milk cooperatives that comprised 22 federations and apex milk unions and 9.3 million dairy farmers in 22 states, reaching out to four metros, more than 100 Class 1 cities, and other major towns and urban areas across the country. Before Kurien went to NDDB at the behest of the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, he had actually demonstrated the power of milk cooperatives at the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers' Union, which had hired this young US-educated mechanical engineer to set up a processing plant in response to competition from a private dairy. This became India's best known dairy brand, Amul."
Few can match such a contribution!