Maharashtra farmers mellow down at sugar season start

Written by fe Bureau | Pune | Updated: Oct 29 2014, 07:35am hrs
The changing political equation in Maharashtra, with the Congress-NCP alliance giving way to the BJP government, could mean less confrontation between sugar mills and farmer leaders in the state.

Every year, the start of the sugar season is marred by long agitations. This year, farmer organisations in the state which are allied with the BJP are willing to give the new government a chance. The Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) has said it will wait for the formation of the government and the the new Cane Price Board which was announced by the previous government. SSS plans to meet at Jaisinghpur near Kolhapur to take stock of the sugar sector on November 1. The crushing season is likely to start the same day. "We will wait to see how the board works and will then decide on the course of action," Raju Shetti, president, SSS, told mediapersons in Pune. "The Union government has announced R2,550 as FRP for sugarcane. Sugar mills should be willing to give at least this rate to farmers. Some mills claim even this price is not feasible. This is not correct," he added.

According to Shetti, he is in favour of recommendations of the Rangarajan committee which suggests cane price be fixed on the 70:30 formula. As per this formula, a sugar unit without any by-products business will have to pay cane price of 70% of its revenue realisation, while it will have to spend 30% on its functioning.

"Wholesale sugar prices have fallen to R2,400 per quintal but retail prices are still at R3,400 per quintal.So neither consumers nor farmers benefit from the price reduction. Some vested interests are manipulating the futures markets and in turn the sugar sector," Shetti alleged, urging the Centre to look into the issue. He said he had met PM Narendra Modi at the tea party organised for allies and Modi had sought a report on the expectations from the government.

Shetti said although the SSS is part of the NDA, it will continue to function in the interests of farmers and agitate if the need arises.

The sugar sector, which was till recently dominated by NCP and Congress leaders in western Maharashtra, has new entrants from the BJP and Shiv Sena. BJP leader Nitin Gadkari and the late Gopinath Munde started new sugar mills in Vidarbha and Marathwada respectively and joined the sugar race in western Maharashtra.

Today, almost all bigwigs across party lines own cooperative or private sugar mills. Maharashtra has 202 registered co-operative sugar factories and over 65 private factories. The state contributes 35.3% of national sugar output followed by Uttar Pradesh.