Dispensing autonomy

Trying to understand the evolution of cooperative law and policy in India


India is one of the leading countries in the world in terms of the number of cooperatives and exhibits some striking cooperative successes. Nevertheless, on scratching the surface one finds that the actual performance is rather modest, often poor. There are various possible reasons for the modest showing. Some of the reasons appear to lie in cooperative law and policy. This essay is concerned with trying to make sense of how cooperative law and policy evolved in India in a manner that, while apparently targeted towards promoting cooperatives, tended to thwart cooperative autonomy. It also tries to identify some of the factors at work behind these developments.

Section I provides a brief commentary on how modern cooperatives developed in India as a tool of colonial state policy.

Section II examines this development in some detail and shows how national initiatives developed within the colonial framework.

Section III attends to the period immediately after independence and tries to show how the government approach towards cooperatives—enshrined in economic plans, law, and policy—took shape in this period.

Section IV tells the story of government policy towards cooperatives and related developments up to the end of the 1980s…

The social and cultural context of

A tentative identification of patterns

About this essay

Like everything else, cooperatives flourish best where conditions are right. However, like organisms, which try to adapt and make the best of conditions, human beings and institutions also try to adapt. Hence, ‘right conditions’ is a generic expression that covers a lot of ground. In the last essay, we had focused on the legal and policy situation in India regarding cooperatives and how they might have affected cooperative growth. In this essay we shall be dealing with the social and cultural context of cooperatives.

A. The ‘social’ and the ‘cultural’

Here, it might be worth our while to ask what we mean by ‘social’ and ‘cultural’ in the title.
Obviously, the categories are very broad. ‘Social’ context includes the economic and political elements, and ‘cultural’ context includes items such as cooperative and entrepreneurial traditions. Therefore, taken together, the categories would include the entire contextual matrix in which activities and initiatives form and develop.

B. The focus areas and general background

In this essay, we have shied away from trying to deal with cooperatives across India as a whole, for such a task appeared absurdly ambitious. Nevertheless, at the beginning, we have tried to provide a general country backdrop, largely to introduce the significance of caste and tribal communities in the overall Indian context—for these become relevant in all questions pertaining to development and community initiative across India. Next, we proceed to focus on two regions—broadly, eastern and western India. The reason for the selection is that, in many ways, the two regions present stark
contrasts. Western India leads the country in cooperative achievement. On the other hand, cooperative performance in eastern India ranges from exceedingly poor to humbly modest. Hence, comparisons of the social and cultural context appear to provide interesting insights.

In the case of western India, we have confined ourselves to Maharashtra and Gujarat. Again, we have dwelled more on Maharashtra, for reasons that will become evident in the course of the discussion.
In the case of eastern India, we talk about West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, and Jharkhand, but specifically zoom-in on West Bengal.

The memoirs of a milkman

Reading a cooperator’s life story

About this essay

This essay might be seen as a rather belated discussion of and commentary on Verghese Kurien’s I too had a Dream, published in 2005. The book has seen some good reviews, but only one that critically analyses it in the light of Kurien’s astounding achievements as a cooperator.
Here, we shall not be able to provide a truly exhaustive treatment of the book. We shall confine ourselves to attending to themes that might be deemed particularly important for cooperative organizers and activists.
The essay below consists of three parts. The first part deals broadly with some of the important themes in the book. Here, we mention the themes as they emerge in the book and discuss them. The second part deals with what the present author felt to be some lacunae in the narrative. The third part discusses some criticisms of Kurien’s work and achievements, with special focus on B.S. Baviskar’s learned review of the book. The last part sums up the review.

The Warana Initiative

Examining a cooperative movement

About this essay

Anyone in India who knows anything of cooperatives knows about the great cooperative
saga of Amul. It has also received wide international recognition. Yet, another amazing
Indian cooperative initiative has received inexplicably less recognition and acclaim, at
least until very recently. This is the Warana initiative, which has delivered welfare across
more than hundred villages in the Panhala area of Kolhapur, a district in Maharashtra.
There are very few proper accounts of the initiative. This essay tries to put together the
information available in various accounts and connect these to other, more direct
sources of information to proceed towards an analytical understanding of the Warana

Study Team

Santanu Chacraverti

Santanu, the principal researcher in this study and author of these essays, is an activist associated with DISHA ( and works mainly on environment and sustainability issues. He is also a freelance researcher and writer. He is closely associated with SOCEO’s work in India.

Sujoy Chatterjee

Sujoy is the Managing Director of SOCEO. Before moving into the social sector he has spent more than a decade in industry. Sujoy has deep interest in the area of collective entrepreneurship and its management. He has played a crucial role in conceiving the study and has assisted it from its inception.

Anna Richter

Anna takes care of program monitoring, communication, and publishing in digital media at SOCEO. She is also pursuing her master degree in international relations. She has earlier worked in international organizations at Montreal, New Delhi, and Pretoria. She has helped the study by proofreading, commenting on, and formatting the essays.