Sunday, March 30, 2008

No country for old milkmen

Did you know that in 1947 the Indian state of Maharashtra "nationalized" its milk industry? It's true! This lasted until 2001. Can you guess what happened then?

Private carriers with higher quality milk swiftly won customers by delivering milk to doorsteps. The government milkmen have always been restricted to delivering mostly to curbside milk stalls so they could cover a greater area.

Customers swiftly deserted. Many switched to heat-treated milk in sealed packages that resist spoiling. Some ditched the government's former best sellers of sweet Pineapple milk and spicy Masala milk for Coca-Cola and Sprite as Indian tastes westernized. Others never found the milk stands appealing -- they can be dingy and the milk sometimes bad.

Sandra Melwani, a 42-year-old food writer who lives near the Worli Dairy, grew up on government milk but now buys sealed packs of Nestle skim milk from the new neighborhood grocery store. "Even as a kid I used to cringe when I looked at the government booths," she says.

Amazingly though, the WSJ asks us to feel sorry for, not the millions of Indian consumers to had to put up with crappy milk in nasty shops for 55 years, but rather for the government milkmen who are still being paid, but have no work to do because the "firm" has no business.

Once respected civil servants, Mr. Walkar and his 300-odd fellow drivers have been left in a strange limbo. Milk sales at their dairy have plummeted as the state government lost its monopoly on milk and consumer tastes changed. But because Indian work rules strictly protect government workers from layoffs, the delivery men show up for work each morning for eight-hour shifts, as they always did, then proceed to do nothing all day. They rarely, if ever, leave the plant.

All around the milkmen are reminders of their lost prestige. The Worli Dairy's entrance is adorned with a huge mosaic of milk bottling machines, a chandelier of milk bottles and plaques marking visits from top politicians.

In the good old days, the dairy threw big events with dancing, live bands, food, photographers and boxes full of sweets to take home. Now, there are only small gatherings to observe religious holidays and to congratulate another retiree. After a hiring freeze of two decades, the average age of employees is close to 50. The ceiling of the rest area where the drivers spend their days is covered with strings of frayed flags put up for a party long ago.

Hey Eric Bellman! Are you freakin' kidding me? The consumers of India got the shaft for 55 years and still are paying the wages of these guys. Not just them either, in Maharashtra alone there are over 25,000 such workers (employed and paid by state owned firms that now do little to no business now that Indian consumers have been given a choice). And your take is that the tragedy is how these guys have lost their "prestige" and have no future? Holy Crap, dude.


Shawn said...

I believe the correct internet terminology for this is "epic fail" WOW. You have got to be kidding me.

Speedmaster said...

I posted about that story this morning too, amazing.

Did you see this?

Anonymous said...

the pineapple milk is really delicious.