Karnataka’s early start to 2016-17 sugar season on November 1 has led to a scramble in Maharashtra. Although Maharashtra’s Cabinet committee has already declared December 1 as the start of the season, there are market reports that mills in Kolhapur, Sangli and Satara near the Karnataka border are likely to get permission to begin the season from November 15. The Western India Sugar Mills Association (WISMA) has sought November 1 as the date for the start of the season.
For the first time in many years, Maharashtra sugar season is likely to be delayed and is slated to begin in December. The decision was taken at a Cabinet committee headed by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. Maharashtra’s sugar season usually commences on October 1 or the second fortnight of October. This time, the season has been delayed by one and half months due to shortage of cane and prolonged rainfall.
However, with increasing pressure from farmer organisations such as Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) to begin the season from November, there are indications that some of the mills may be allowed an early start. Farmer organisations are opposing the late start to the season on the grounds that the neighbouring states such as Karnataka are likely to start the season ahead of Maharashtra and because of the reduction in production, farmers in the border areas may end up selling cane to Karnataka. While mills in Pune, Solapur and Ahmednagar regions are facing the paucity of cane, mills in Sangli, Kolhapur and Satara regions have ample cane. Sadabhau Khot, minister of state for agriculture and a leader of SSS has said he would meet Fadnavis and seek an early start to the crushing season for mills in Kolhapur and Sangli region.
“Sugar mills on the border districts like Sangli, Kolhapur will be impacted since neighbouring Karnataka is scheduled to start early. Farmers will prefer selling cane to these mills instead of waiting for the season to begin in Maharashtra,” he pointed out. Mills in Kolhapur have huge crushing capacities and still continue to crush till the last date of the season and by the time these mills begin to crush cane, there is a fear that majority of the cane would have been sold to the other state.
BB Thombare, WISMA chairman said the association would meet Maharashtra cooperation minister Subhash Deshmukh on Friday to press for the demand to commence the season by November 1. “ Our association had opposed the Cabinet committee’s proposal to delay to season to December 1 on the day of the meet. Not only is there cane shortage, but the state is also likely to face labour issues if there is a late start to the season. The labour is likely to migrate to Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat in search of work if they are made to wait until December. Moreover, the cane has already matured and is not of top quality. A delay in crushing could lead to a loss in recovery and could impact the subsequent rabi season,” he said. With the Maharashtra season likely to be delayed, at least 5,00,000 casual labourers have migrated to Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Shrirang Bhange, state secretary of the Maharashtra Ustod Kamgar Vahtuk Majoor Sanghatana, which looks into issues related to sugar workers said, several workers have already gone to the neighbouring states in search of work.
According to industry experts, the Kolhapur and Sangli regions grow cane which is sown in July-August and if this is harvested after 17 months, there is reduction in weight. The rise in heat in February and March is also likely to add to the reduction in weight. Some of the farmers have been complaining that they will not be able to undertake rabi sowing if there is a late start.
According to Sanjeev Babar, MD, Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation, there may be a possibility of the season starting on November 15. Some of the farmer organisations are demanding an early start to the season while other farmer organisations are in favour of a late start to the season. Around 155-160 mills are expected to crush cane in the 2016-17 season.