The Maharashtra government is set to enforce a five-year ban on sanctioning new sugar mills in the drought-hit Marathwada region, which is facing a severe drinking water crisis.
At a core committee meeting of cabinet ministers led by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, it was decided to ban new sugar mills in Marathwada, which comprises eight districts — Aurangabad, Jalna, Beed, Parbhani, Latur, Hingoli, Osmanabad and Nanded.
The government’s decision is in line with the recommendations of the Madhav Chitale committee, which was set up when the Congress-NCP government was in power. The panel had pointed out that sugarcane requires a large amount of water to cultivate.
Of the 202 sugar mills in Maharashtra, 40 per cent are in Marathwada region. Maharashtra accounts for 32 per cent of the total sugar production in the country.
“It is virtually not possible to sanction new sugar mills for the next five years in Marathwada region,” state Revenue and Agriculture Minister Eknath Khadse said.
In another decision meant to save water, the government plans to make drip irrigation compulsory for all sugar mills across the state. Data from the ministry of agriculture shows that only 20-25 per cent sugar mills have implemented drip irrigation. A majority of the sugar mills draw water from dams. But the dilemma for the government, officials said, is that sugarcane growers seek higher subsidy to implement drip irrigation.
The government is now seeking the Israel government’s expertise and trying to make drip irrigation a less expensive process.
“There cannot be any justification for allowing so many sugar mills in Marathwada. As a uniform rule, the government should ensure that any district with less than 700 mm rainfall should not be allowed sugarcane cultivation,” Chitale had said.
Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, too, had suggested that permission to set up sugar mills should not be given in drought-hit regions.
Fadnavis also emphasised on a re-look at crop patterns according to soil heath and water availability in each region, to ensure that huge investments put in by farmers are commensurate with the yield.
Osmanabad district collector Prashant Narnaware said, “In my district, where the average rainfall is less than 450 mm, the ‘Beyond Cane’ campaign has worked to the farmers’ advantage. Out of 48,000 hectares, 23,000 hectares will not grow sugarcane. The farmers are going for pulses which require less water, floriculture and horticulture with guidance from the agriculture ministry.”