With Maharashtra’s sugar season slated to commence on November 5, farmers’ organisations in the state are now gearing up for a long battle ahead with sugar millers for a higher cane price.
Farmer leader Raju Shetti, also the chief of the Shetkari Swabhimani Sanghatana (SSS) — one of the more aggressive organisations in the state and an ally of the BJP both at the Centre and in the state — has declared that the Sanghatana would demand a first installment of R3,200 per tonne for farmers. The Sanghatana has told millers that no cane would be allowed to be crushed unless the sugar mills give the farmers a first installment of R3,200 per tonne in a single amount. The Sanghatana has claimed that farmer organisations in Karnataka are also of the same view and would place the same demand before the mills in Karnataka.
Shetti’s reasoning is that since cane is scarce this season, farmers should stand to benefit and get a higher price.
During his annual sugarcane conference held before the beginning of the crushing season, which is attended by thousands of farmers, Shetti, the second-time sitting member of Parliament and founder leader of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sangathana, announced the price he would like the farmers to get from the sugar mills.
This is the 15th sugarcane conference organised by Shetti and is considered the annual congregation of the party and sugarcane farmers, who have launched agitations for higher price after the conferences in the past.
According to Shetti, during FY15-16, sugar rates were R2,500 per tonne between March 2015-October 2015 and the Sanghatana had agreed to the plea of the mills to give R2,200 per tonne. This time, the mills have surplus stocks with them and therefore there should be no problem in giving farmers good rates.
Reacting to the demand placed by farmer leader, Jayprakash Dandegaonkar, vice chairman, Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation (MSCSFF), said that sugar mills always had the interest of farmers at heart and wished to give them the best price. “It all depends on the valuations by banks and the amount the banks are willing to release as the cane installment. Raju Shetti is part of the government at the state and Centre and it is strange that being a part of the government, he has to come out on the street to place demands for cane price for farmers. Since he is part of the government, he should talk to the government and ensure that the banks give sugar mills in Maharashtra the highest valuations so that farmers can get a higher cane price,” Dandegaonkar said.
Sanjeev Babar, MD of the federation, wanted to know where the millers would get the money to make cane payments to farmers.
“As per law, the FRP is currently at R2,600 per tonne and any rate over and above this amount is possible only when the millers have surplus amount of funds with them. This is not the case in Maharashtra,” he said.
Shetti, in his speech, pointed out that some of the mills in the Kolhapur region had paid R2,800 per tonne as first installment, although they did not have any byproducts. He said that leaders of the Karnataka Raitu Sangha have also expressed solidarity with farmer organisations in Maharashtra and both the farmer organisations would strive to ensure that the farmers get good rates He also said that the installment should be given to farmers in a single sum and not in parts, as was done during the previous season.
The state has advanced the crushing season from December 1 to November 5 and the sugar factories are prepared to start crushing sugar cane immediately after Diwali.