With sugar crushing season starting in a few weeks time, the estimate of sugar output has emerged as a bone of contention between Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Food Minister K V Thomas.
While Thomas asserts that his department has estimated sugar output this season to be marginally up at around 24.6 million tonnes from about 24.3 million tonnes last season, Pawar insists that sugar output this year could be in the range of 25.5 and 26 million tonnes.
“I think sugar production will be between 25.5 and 26 million tonnes. This year, monsoon has been good and reservoir position is good. So, the withdrawal (recovery rate) of sugar from cane will be higher than the current season,” Pawar said on Thursday in response to sugar output data firmed up by the Food Ministry after the meeting of representatives of 10 major sugar producing states recently.
Output figures indicated by Pawar is substantially up from 24.6 million tonnes firmed up by the Food Ministry. “My impression is that there is some mistake in the calculation. I will collect the proper figure by Monday and then give it to the Food Minister,” Pawar said.
In the backdrop of persistently high level of food inflation, the estimate holds the key to government’s decision on allowing sugar exports. While the annual domestic demand of sugar stands at around 21.5 million tonnes, restrictions on sugar exports help control the spurt in the prices.
While Thomas has taken a cautious stance on the issue of sugar exports, Pawar has been pro-active in advocating the same.
“Global prices will become unfavourable if there will be a delay. The government had to provide about Rs 1,500 crore to mills as export assistance a few years ago. We do not want that situation,” Pawar cautioned against delay in allowing sugar exports.
Thomas had on Wednesday indicated that he was in no hurry to consider sugar exports.