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The curious case of the dairy farm of Bahalrampur

Bahalrampur is a sleepy little village in Western Uttar Pradesh, India. Before independence the only thing people did there was rear sheep and farm in their fields. The highways connecting Delhi and Kolkata in the early 21st century brought what we call as modernity and development to this place. Now it is bustling (for a village) with people opening up businesses, tractors ploughing the fields and large fertilizer dealerships. There are also large dairy farms, each housing more than 200 cattle and selling milk to the ever increasing demand in the National Capital Region.

In the summer of 2020, just after the first hard wave of COVID was reaping its deadly harvest, this little village was coming to terms with a slackening consumer demand. Instead of the hundreds of large tankers of milk that flowed every day from the village to the Noida collection center of Amul, there were barely barely a few. The price of milk increased and the few remaining firms made a lot of money.

It was at this time, that something unusual happened. One of the unaffiliated farms started selling milk at a significant discount. For example, while a litre of milk from Amul cost Rs. 45, this farm was able to deliver the same for Rs. 30. In a month the demand was so high, they could raise this to Rs. 35 and still not be able to meet the demand. The existing dairy owners were in a fix and could just not keep up with such competitive pricing! They did what most villagers do - complained to the panchayat to investigate the owner for unfair practices. There were claims that these were funded by big corporate players who were okay with a temporary loss to gain market share and then earn big fat profits.

Not much came off it. There was a local investigation but the business continued. Eventually the record low price actually attracted attention at the Govt. Secretariat. The Govt. of UP apparently also has a tie up with the FCI (The Food Corporation of India) and they have the mandate to verify and certify the quality of agricultural or food produce. They visited the site, inspected the grounds and submitted a report stating that all was okay and the only reason they could operate was low labor costs. There was something fishy but probably a little bit of greasing eased the way and it did not find a mention in the report.

This was however noticed by some civil society sociopreneurs.

The price of Rs. 35 was not the major concern. The fact that they could keep this price WITHOUT diluting the milk and still manage production with 50 cattle WAS. They also requested the owner for a site visit and this was granted. I was a part of this team.

We managed to visit the site in late August. It was pouring. The roads were good, thankfully and there was no hold up while reaching the place. The property was spread over about 2 acres (not too huge for a similar operation of the size) and though the owner was not there, he had arranged for helpers to keep us company.

While the entire group was treated to mouth watering tea and snacks, I was on my way to the grounds. There were neat stacks of feed for the cattle. Obviously, the management of this farm stood out. Efficiency showed through - there was good sanitation facilities for the cattle and the goshala was constructed with local materials to save cost (and keep the cattle cool). Water provisioning for the cattle was in place and there was a conveyor belt for feeding as well. There were 4 workers to clean the premises - far too few, but they seems to be able to do the work well.

The group was being treated to a round lunch - with 11 different bowls of delicacies. This is normal and occurs in every single such inspection. I had in the meantime almost completed my rounds as well. The lassi, as everyone else stated, was apparently mouth watering. Most of the group was indoors by now. There were a couple walking around. It was raining again, briefly interspersed with thunder. It was then I heard something that was totally out of place.

Barks.

Very ordinary in a village in UP. Very very unusual in a cattle farm. One of the helpers understood I must have heard it. I looked at him, and he looked at me. I looked in the direction from where I heard it. He mumbled something about some 'Kalu'. Then there were multiple barks, and this time not from a single source.

"There can't be a single Kalu", I said and started walking quickly in the direction.

The helper followed me speaking gibberish, urging me to go back. After almost racing down for about a 100 yards, I came across a curtain. I removed it and saw something that I was not prepared for.

These were dogs. Not one. Not two.

Entire rows of dogs till the eye could see. Each of front and hind legs were tied in pairs and there was another chain on their neck. The thunderstorm had scared the poor creatures and they were completely scared. The same conveyor belt extended to this section too. It was clear they were being milked too. 

There were 250 dogs in total. Collection centers were kept after about 50 dogs. The collectors of cow and dog milk were the same. All the dogs were collected from the street and kept there in the shed where they were pumped hormones to stimulate pregnancy. Just to keep the milk production going.

The Government crept in. The owner was (as far as I remember) arrested and the farm was auctioned off. The dogs were released, back into the streets. Some were rescued by animal friendly organizations. Or that was what they claimed. Bahalrampur however never reclaimed its status as a dairy producer anymore. 

Note: The entire story above is a work of fiction, any semblance to reality is nothing but a coincidence.

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