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Amul's tech wizard, Dalaya passes away

Harish Damodaran

New Delhi , Sept. 12

IF there is one technological breakthrough that truly revolutionised India's organised dairy industry, it is the making of milk powder out of buffalo milk. And the man who made this possible defying prevailing technical wisdom — Mr H.M. Dalaya — passed away in Pune on Sunday, aged 83.

While the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Union (Amul) is usually associated with its founder, Mr Tribhuvandas Patel and the irrepressible Dr Verghese Kurien, it was Mr Dalaya who provided the real technical backbone to the organisation. It used to be said that if Mr Patel was Amul's Father, Dr Kurien was the Son and Mr Dalaya the Holy Ghost!

"My role was mainly in marketing, external affairs and handling politicians, bureaucrats and other establishment people. The internal and technical affairs of the dairy was entirely with Dalaya,'' an emotional Dr Kurien told Business Line.

Mr Dalaya was originally from Karachi, where his family owned a dairy farm with over 300 cows. After graduating in agriculture from Pune, he studied dairy technology at the Michigan State University, where he first met Dr Kurien. Mr Dalaya returned to India at Partition time, only to find his family uprooted from Karachi.

"It was a difficult period and he had almost decided to go back to the US. I had then joined the Kaira Union and managed to convince him to join me", Dr Kurien recalled.

The biggest challenge facing the Kaira dairy then was the surplus milk being produced by its farmers in the `flush' winter season, for which there were no takers. "The Milk Commissioner of Mumbai was not willing to buy the extra milk despite my complaining that we could not plug the udders of our buffaloes. The only option was to have our own powder plant that would convert all the surplus flush season milk to powder, which could be recombined into milk during the lean summer months", explained Dr Kurien.

But the problem here lay in the prevailing technical opinion that milk powder can be produced only from cow milk. "We were told about this by all experts, including Prof William Riddet, Director of New Zealand's Dairy Research Institute. But Dalaya was already experimenting with making powder from buffalo milk and we were sure that this could be done", he said.

Mr Dalaya had even seen a small experimental powder plant at Larsen & Toubro's factory, which he wanted to buy, but was told had already been sold to one Teddington Chemical Factory at Andheri, Mumbai. "We went to the factory and met its manager, who agreed to loan it to us. We used this plant to also demonstrate to UNICEF officials that milk powder can be made from buffalo milk, after which they decided to fund our proposed powder plant," Dr Kurien said.

Mr Dalaya was subsequently sent to Denmark for studying powder plant designs and operations. From these resulted the Niro Atomiser, the world's first ever sprayer dryer designed for drying buffalo milk and installed in the Kaira dairy in October 1955.

Today, making not just powder, but even cheese or baby food, from buffalo milk is considered "no big deal" — something made possible by someone who is no more today.

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