The Mehsana District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union Limited, popularly known as Dudhsagar dairy in Gujarat, will go to the polls on Tuesday. The contest for the six-decade-old dairy, with a turnover of over Rs 4,700 crore per annum is expected to be largely between a panel supported by Vipul Chaudhary — a former chairman of the dairy whose political allegiance has oscillated between the Congress and the BJP in the past — and the BJP-supported panel led by Ashok Chaudhary. In 2015, the latter had won three of the 16 seats that went to the polls.
The elections are being held at a time when Vipul Chaudhary, a former chairman of GCMMF who is in the fray this year, is in judicial custody for his alleged involvement in a bonus scam. The 55-year-old was arrested by the Gujarat Crime Investigation Department (CID), Crime and Railways, on December 12 last year for allegedly hatching a conspiracy to siphon off Rs 14.8 crore which was meant to be distributed as bonus among the Dudhsagar dairy’s union workers.
Several of Vipul’s associates, who are presently on the Board of Directors, are also in judicial custody. This includes vice-chairman Mogaji Chaudhary and managing director NJ Baxi.
The incumbent chairman, Asha Thakor, is absconding in the case, police said. Both Mogaji and Asha are not contesting the polls, poll officials said.
The Dudhsagar dairy elections are important as it one of the 17 milk cooperative unions under the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) and collects milk from 10 lakh farmers across Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Haryana.
Established in 1960, the dairy has grown from its first-day milk collection of a mere 3,300 litres (from 11 milk cooperative societies) to 28 lakh litres per day in 2018-19. Of the total milk collection, 20.68 lakh litres per day of milk comes from Gujarat, while the rest from Rajasthan and Haryana.
Apart from milk and milk product processing plant that produces products of Amul and Sagar brands in Mehsana, Dudhsagar has similar plants at Manesar and Dharuhera in Haryana which are called Dudhmansagar and Dudhmotisagar dairies, respectively.
Election on 15 seats
Though there are 20 seats in the Board of Directors, only 15 seats will go to the polls this year. Four are nominated members of the Board which include representatives of the state government, NDDB, GCMMF, and district cooperative bank. There is a stay on polls for the 16th seat of the Board.
“Out of the 16 seats for which polls are usually held, one seat is reserved for ‘Itar Mangdi’ sector, which means the sector of production of goods, apart from the milk. The person eligible to vote for this seat should be one of the members of the union when it was founded back in 1960. However, this time, since there is no founding member alive to vote, there is a stay on this seat by the union’s committee,” C C Patel, the prant officer of Visnagar in Mehsana district and the chief election officer of Dudhsagar dairy polls said.
On Tuesday, as many as 1,129 voters will cast their votes. A total of 41 candidates are in the fray for the 15 seats. “For Tuesday, we have made 11 polling stations in 11 wards of Mehsana wherein total of 1,129 voters will cast votes from 9 am to 5 pm. Counting will then begin by 6.30 pm. Apart from ample police security at the stations, we have also arranged for masks and sanitizers. There are 11 wards with one seat in each and among the 11, four wards — Kheralu, Mansa, Vijapur, and Visnagar — have two seats each for polls making the count to 15 positions. The rules of the union state that four wards that have maximum milk output will get one seat each,” Patel said.
According to officials, the 1,129 voters are the representatives of the village-level milk committees in the union representing their wards. The representative who will cast the ballot is chosen by the village-level milk committees and the person’s name is conveyed to the polling officer.
A total of 123 persons had filed the nominations form of which 103 forms were accepted. Later, 64 persons had taken their forms back and 39 were left. “The Gujarat High Court has allowed two more applicants to nominate themselves for the elections making the count to 41,” Patel said.
Vipul Chaudhary was among those who have been allowed by the High Court to file a nomination for the Dudhsagar dairy polls.
According to GCMMF sources, polls for the Board of Directors in the dairy unions are held once every five years. These directors elect the chairman and vice-chairman once every 2.5 years.
Referring to the bonus scam, police sources said Vipul Chaudhary was under compulsion to pay Rs 9 crore as compensation to GCMMF by an order of a tribunal court. In 2013, when Chaudhary was the Amul chairman, he had allegedly given Rs 22 crore worth cattle fodder to Maharashtra for free without allegedly consulting the union board at Amul. The police have claimed in their probe they have found that Chaudhary was allegedly involved in a Rs 14.8 crore scam at Dudhsagar dairy to pay off the Rs 9 crore ordered by the high court. Supporters of Chaudhary have called his arrest a “witch-hunt” by the BJP to deter him from contesting again.
Rajesh Goswami, the advocate for Vipul Chaudhary, said, “The court has set the next date for a bail hearing on January 13, so Chaudhary won’t be in Mehsana on the polling day.”