Mumbai: Even as this year saw an estimated production of 13.8 million metric tonnes of sugar, billed as the highest since records were set, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday announced a grant of ₹200 per ton to the Cooperative Sugar Mills to facilitate the crushing of the remaining 1.95 lakh tons of sugar cane.
The sugar mills have also been asked to extend their grinding season, which began on October 15, 2021, until the end of May.
The state will also provide an additional grant of ₹5 per ton per kilometer for transporting cane from fields to mills. In total, this will result in the burden of ₹100 crore from the Treasury.
The decision comes on the back of a massive amount of sugarcane that remains uncrushed and unharvested, leading to widespread unrest among sugarcane farmers. Last week, the suicide of a farmer in Beed, because of an acre of his field still unharvested and unmilled, caused a political storm. The cooperative sugar industry is the backbone of the state’s rural economy.
Moreover, most of the 199 sugar factories run by cooperatives or private companies are in western and central Maharashtra, where the ruling coalition parties of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Shiv Sena and Congress have support. The Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government cannot afford unrest among farmers ahead of the impending local elections scheduled for later this year.
Of the 132 million tonnes of sugar cane available for milling, 130 million tonnes have been milled through May 16. Larger cultivated area, higher sugarcane production and high temperature delayed the crushing of sugarcane. This has resulted in losses for sugarcane farmers in Beed, Jalna, Ahmednagar and Latur districts, where thousands of tons of sugarcane have yet to be crushed.
On May 11, Namdev Jadhav, 32, committed suicide after setting fire to his unharvested sugarcane field. According to local police, the farmer in Hingangaon village, Georai district, Beed, feared losses as his standing crop was not transported in time for crushing.
Thackeray asked the cooperation department to ensure the crushing continued until all the stock was moved to the crushers. He also asked the department to plan the next crushing season carefully and start from Oct. 1.
Pandurang Shelke, Co-Commissioner, Sugar Commissionerate, said 73 sugar factories are currently operational and expect to crush all stock by the end of the month. “We help farmers and mills complete the milling in a given time. The subsidy provided by the government will help the factories to extend the crushing as some of them did not get the adequate stock to continue the crushing,” he said.
Vitthal Pawar, Chairman, Sharad Joshi Vichar Manch, a farmers’ organization, said the state government was giving false figures on unground sugar cane. “At least 4 million tonnes of cane are still in the field and it is unlikely that they will be completely cut. Even the government knows that neither the farmers nor the factories are in a condition to cut and crush the remaining stock of cane. The subsidy announced by the state government will go to sweets. The state should purchase the remaining stock by donating ₹1 lakh per acre to cultivators and use the cane for fodder,” he said.
Maharashtra BJP Deputy Chairman Madhav Bhandari said the delayed crush was the result of mismanagement by the state government. “The grant decision is due to the protest organized by the BJP in Pune. The announced transport subsidy should be credited to farmers’ bank accounts and not paid to factories,” he said.