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Anuradha Desai, chairperson, Venkateshwara Hatcheries

Dileep Athavale  |  New Delhi 

The is a "daddy's daughter", declares astrology writer And Anuradha Desai, for one, has lived up to the assertion.
For: not only has this 40-something, 15-May-born chairperson of the Rs 1,300 crore (VH) inherited the business' stewardship from her father the late Dr B V Rao, she has strived hard to expand into newer areas while keeping the leadership in poultry business in tact.
If Dr Rao was the pioneer of organised poultry business in the country, Desai has fine tuned the vision she inherited from her father and is today "" like her father in his days "" the voice of the Indian poultry industry.
The Rao family migrated to Pune in the late 1960s and Anuradha, the eldest of the three siblings, learnt the ropes of the poultry business at a very young age as her father set up as a small operation along the banks of Pune's Mutha river.
She almost grew up on the farm and when her classmates were busy playing house, she was engrossed with the birds, feeding them and acquainting herself with the nuances of poultry hygiene.
A degree in law was perhaps only appropriate, as the country and certainly the poultry industry moved to the world stage, entailing a plethora of legalities for exporters triggered by the (WTO) regime.
From there Anuradha has come a long way as she now oversees a multi-activity business including eggs, egg powder, poultry feed, animal feed, vaccines, biotech, R&D and now even wine distribution and entertainment, with husband Jitendra and brothers Venkatesh and Balaji along her side.
Since she took over the reins of soon after her father's death, the group's turnover has increased manifold and so has the recognition for her contribution to the cause of the poultry business. Not happy resting on her father's laurels, she has led from the exports initiative of Venky's Chicken.
Also, on the lines of National Egg Coordination Committee (NECC) that generally guards interests of the egg producers and exporters, she promotes "Bromark" as an attempt to standardise quality and prices of fresh chicken, though the idea is yet to take wing for some reason.
The current controversy over the outbreak of Avian influenza in the north Maharashtra district of Nandurbar is not the first time that her Taurean tenacity and grit has manifested itself.
The move to allow import of chicken from the United States, planned in the late 1990s, was thwarted almost entirely by Anuradha's tireless efforts to convince the government, the administration, media and the country's that the world's largest economy was thrusting upon India its unsold and unwanted stock which could be months old.
The proposal blew over, strengthing her position as the voice of the poultry business in India. Next to come was the Avian flu in China, Thailand and some other Asian countries. Fearing the disease would reach Indian shores as well, cut down drastically their poultry products consumption.
The NECC under her leadership set about convincing the Indian consumer about the harmlessness of Indian chicken and eggs. Media campaigns, roadshows, chicken festivals and biryani parties et al brought home the message.
The government went hand-in-hand with the poultry sector, defending the business on global platforms, armed by research and statistics supplied by NECC.
Apeda director Sanjay Dave remembers the time as among the best spells in industry-government cooperation ever. "Even we did not have as much data and information as the poultry players were ready with. That helped India's position internationally."
This time round, however, the trouble has reached her own doorstep, with accusations flying high about supplying infected birds to farmers in Navapur village of Mahrashtra's Nandurbar district.
Both she and her CEO, O P Singh, have tried to clarify that the company supplies day-old birds which are free of infections. Surprisingly, this time the powers that be don't seem to be friendly.
Amid confusion and cross statements over the existance of Avian influenza in the Navapur belt, the poultry queen seems isolated. As a person, however, she's unruffled. Even as the uncertainty over VH's export orders (running into nearly Rs 300 crore per year) stares at her, she is worried about the lakhs of farmers who could be deprived of their livelihood in the wake of this controversy.
"If we had supplied infected birds we would shy away any such idea. Besides, isn't it against our own interest to supply such stock to farmers?" she asks.
Unfortunately for her, such pleas are going unheard as the authorities seem to proceed with the presumption that the disease hitting chickens in Nandurbar is the dreaded H5N, the Avian flu.
Memories of Dr Rao keep her going "" the man she looks up to in times of difficulty. Another source of strength is 13-year-old daughter Uttara who she helps with her homework.

First Published: Fri, February 24 2006. 00:00 IST