Maharashtra’s sugar season may end in four months this year. According to state cooperation minister Chandrakant Patil, the season is likely to end by February because of a water shortage caused due to the absence of enough rains this monsoon. The government has also cut down estimates for sugar down to 80-85 lakh tonne.
The minister, who was in Pune to take stock of the 2015-16 season, said that in the next eight days, the government will take a decision on the demand made by farmers’ organisation for a single Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP) payment following a meeting with chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. Both farmer leaders and millers were invited by the minister for the meeting which was held at the Maharashtra sugar commissionerate.
“The mills have expressed concern over their inability to pay FRP in a single amount while the farmer organisations are sticking to their stand. Around 100 factories have paid the entire FRP amount for the last season while 50 factories have paid 75% of the FRP dues. Only five factories have paid less than 50% FRP arrears to farmers and the government has been taking action against these mills. Of the
total of R1,9000 crore FRP payments, mills have paid up R18,300 crore with only R700 crore remaining. A decision on FRP will be taken in the next eight days before the start of the Winter session on December 7,” he said. “We have been receiving proposals on ways to make single FRP payments and the government will work on these proposals after a meeting with the CM,” he said.
Around 700 lakh tonne of cane is expected to be crushed this year as against 976 lakh tonne crushed last season to produce some 80-85 lakh tonne of sugar, the minister said. Last year, Maharashtra produced a record 105 lakh tonne of sugar.
“Drinking water has been given first priority in the state followed by agriculture and then industry. Mills in the Marathwada region have less water. Therefore, the season is likely to end in four months,” he said. While the country received around 16 per cent less monsoon rainfall, Marathwada in Maharashtra, which contributes nearly 18% of the state’s sugar output, had a 40% deficit.
The state has an opening balance of some 34 lakh tonne of sugar and steps taken by the Centre to encourage exports will help the mills make FRP payments, he said. According to Patil, till date, around 122 mills have commenced crushing operations. According to data released by the Indian Sugar MIlls Association (ISMA), 114 sugar mills were in operation and produced 4.31 lakh tonne as on November 15 in the state. In 2014, 97 sugar mills were in operation as on November 15and they produced 3.10 lakh tonne.
Meanwhile, Shetkari Sanghatana leader Raju Shetti told mediapersons that all farmer organisations in the state were sticking to their stand of demanding FRP from sugar mills in a single amount. He said the high court had given a ruling on making FRP payments in a single amount as well. Under the directions of the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court, the commissioner has to take a decision which can compel the mills to pay more than R200 crore to the farmers. The high court gave this direction while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Swabhimani Shetkari leader Prahlad Ingole.
Earlier, the SC dismissed five special leave petitions filed by sugar factories including one belonging to Vikhe-Patil and farmers against the HC order as they wanted water to be released for agriculture and industry use. If the government does not decide in favour of single payment of FRP to farmers, farmer organisations will launch an agitation, he said.
“Sugar prices are moving up and there are no valid grounds for mills not to make payments. Sugar valuations will go up in December since prices are up. We have also suggested that government guarantees should be given recover the remaining margins which mills claim are difficult to pay up,” he said.