When India banned mithai in summers

India is the world’s largest producer of milk today, but from the mid-1960s to the 1980s, many Indian states used to ban mithai during the summer months to fight milk shortage

Summer of 1965 was not the best time to attend a wedding in Delhi. That year, the city’s administration placed restrictions on serving dairy sweets to guests. A host could not serve sweets made of “khoya, chhaina, rabri and khurchan to more than 25 persons at a time at social functions.”

Chhaina is split milk but the other three are simply milk reduced to different degrees of viscosity by boiling. Rabri is fluid, khoya is firm while khurchan is flaky. Khurchan literally means something scraped off.

Sweetened rabri and khurchan are treats by themselves but all four are also used as a base for numberless sweets.

Why did Delhi Administration pass such a spoilsport order?

Because there was a dire shortage of milk. Not just in Delhi but across India, and that had been the case for years. The idea of India as a land of milk and honey survived only in mythology. On the ground, we were a milk-starved nation with per capita availability of 46kg per year when the average Kiwi had 270kg and even a Pakistani had 82kg to their share (Food & Agriculture Organization data for 1952–55)

In fact, average milk consumption in India had reduced after Independence because the part of India that went to west Pakistan had significantly higher average milk production than the rest of undivided India.

Immediately after Independence, Government of India had made dairy farming a focus area under its Grow More Food scheme, but suddenly, in 1949, it was removed from the list.

The milk crisis used to deepen every summer when fodder and water were in short supply. And the idea to ban dairy sweets to shore up the availability of liquid milk first came up for discussion a few years later.

In June 1960, National Nutrition Advisory Committee (NNAC) recommended prohibiting the “commercial” manufacture of milk-based sweets, but the state governments opposed it. Consequently, NNAC’s executive committee reviewed the proposal on March 22, 1963 and dropped it.

Next year, minister of state for external affairs Lakshmi Menon made the recommendation again at a speech in Patna, Bihar, and then food and agriculture minister A M Thomas had to assure Parliament on May 7, 1964: “There is no proposal now to ban the use of milk for the manufacture of sweets.”

However, by 1969, the ban on manufacturing milk-based sweets in summer had become an annual practice in many states.

Banned, from east to west

The West Bengal government banned manufacture of dairy sweets in Calcutta (now Kolkata) on August 23, 1965, through the West Bengal Channa Sweets Control Order. In Punjab, the Punjab Milk Products Control Order, 1966 came into force on June 13, 1966.

The Centre issued Delhi, Meerut and Bulandshahr Milk and Milk Products Control Order, 1969 on February 27, 1969, for “maintaining and increasing supplies of milk and for securing its equitable distribution in the areas comprising the Union Territory of Delhi and the Districts of Meerut and Bulandshahr in the State of Uttar Pradesh.” The order was enforced for three months every year from April 15 to July 15.

The state of Uttar Pradesh implemented the Uttar UP Milk and Milk Products Control Order, 1974 with the same intent on April 2, 1974 and it used to be enforced till August 14 every year.

All of these orders prohibited the manufacture, sale, supply and serving of cream, casein, skim milk, khoya, rabri, paneer or any kind of sweets in the preparation of which milk or any of its products, except ghee, is an ingredient.

The ban really worked

Were these orders successful in increasing the availability of liquid milk? Official data shows they worked. In 1968, Delhi Milk Scheme’s daily average procurement through April was 142,607 litres, but it dropped to 83,656 litres of milk on May 11. After the control order was implemented, milk procurement increased to 118, 378 litres on May 16, and then to 140,000 litres on May 31.

To a question raised in Parliament on the legitimacy of the Delhi order, on May 9, 1969, then minister of state for agriculture Annasaheb Shinde replied:

“Government are aware that manufacturers of milk sweets will be adversely affected. But milk sweets are a luxury product… In order to make fluid milk available to Delhi Milk Scheme, and to consumers in the milkshed area, the Delhi, Meerut and Bulandshahr Milk and Milk Products Control Order is necessary.”