HYDERABAD: Following the Supreme Court's ban and ongoing crackdown against the use of hormone injections to significantly enhance cow milk production, dairy farmers have planned to increase the price of milk.
If accepted by the authorities, the price can initially jump by 18%, forcing the public to foot the bill for extirpation of health injurious practices of the farmers which have continued for decades.
In Hyderabad, the retailers are selling milk at Rs85 per litre. In an application submitted by representatives of the dairy farmers to Deputy Commissioner Muhammad Saleem Rajput on February 4, they have sought a Rs15 per litre hike in the rate.
Attempt to artificially inflate milk prices thwarted
Although the perceptible cause for the price surge is a clamp down on the injections, being supervised by Sindh High Court's judicial officers, the representatives cite the rising cost of business to justify their demand. "For many years, the government hasn't allowed an increase in the milk price. But the rates of fodder, fuel, veterinary expenses and livestock animals have kept bumping up," said Dr Hadi Bux Jatoi, a former official of the health department, who represents the dairy farmers of the new cattle colony in Hyderabad.
He claimed that the business has no longer remained profitable and at least 20 cattle pens have closed in Karachi and as many are in the same process. "While the farmers always remain under the government's pressure, the companies selling packed milk are never stopped from raising the price of their products," he argued.
Dr Hadi said that the farmers have been requesting the authorities since last Ramazan to notify the new rates of milk. He added that they have been constantly meeting the officials for the last three months.
Price of packaged milk increased by Rs10 per litre
"If our complaints remain unheard, we will take to the streets in protest," he warned. Dr Hadi claimed that even the Rs15 per litre hike will not make their business as profitable as other sectors of the economy.
A representative of the milk retailers in Hyderabad, who requested anonymity, told The Express Tribune that the farmers are currently selling milk at an average of Rs75 per litre. The differential of Rs10 per litre covers the commission charged by the middlemen, transportation charges, cost of business and profit of the retailers.
"The retailers earn between Rs1 to Rs2 per litre. But given the investment and losses suffered due to decomposition of milk, the business is no longer profitable," said the retailer, echoing concerns of the farmers. Another retailer, who also requested anonymity, confided that without adulterating milk, neither the farmers nor the retailers can make a profit.
Unilateral hike: Dairy farmers announce increase in milk price
"The story doesn't end at the hormone injections. It just begins there," he underscored. According to him, the retailers actually end up paying up to Rs3,100 per maund to the farmers and the middlemen against the notified rates of Rs2,880 per maund.
Zulfiqar Jatoi, a dairy farmer, predicted that after enforcement of the apex court's ban, milk production will reduce to almost half of the present level. "The injections help us double the produce. If we immediately cease this practice the yield will also halve."
He contended that the existing profit margins will not allow the farmers to purchase new cows to compensate for the reduction. "With the onset of summer, the milk production will decrease further and is likely to create a huge shortage in the market," he claimed. "If a retailer selling 200 maunds per day began to receive only half the supply, a shortfall will become inevitable."
Wholesale price of milk will be maintained, assures Karachi commissioner
According to Zulfiqar, a delegation of Karachi-based farmers will meet the commissioner on Saturday and the issuance of a notification of increase in the milk price is likely. He said Hyderabad's farmers will immediately follow Karachi in implementing the new rates. "But if the government doesn't accept our demand, we will take the matter to the Sindh High Court," he said.
Faheemuddin Shaikh, president of Hyderabad's milk retailers' association, said that they have yet to pursue the price increase case with the government.
An official of the district administration, who requested anonymity, said that the hormone injections are still being sold in the market.
"The judicial officers should collect the milk samples for laboratory tests. Only this can establish whether the farmers are still injecting their animals or not."
While the government and farmers are arguing over the price hike, complaints of the sale of impure milk in the city abound. There are around 200 dairy shops in addition to an unspecified number of home delivery service providers in Hyderabad.