At least 52 sugar mills in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region, which has been reeling under water scarcity, have expressed their inability to undertake crushing operations in the coming sugar season. The mills have urged the Maharashtra government to run the mills since these mills lack both the wherewithal to raise funds and also make payments to farmers. A decision to this effect was taken at the joint meeting of the Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation (MSCSFF) and the Western India Sugar Mills Association (WISMA) at Aurangabad.
State relief and rehabilitation minister Eknath Khadse has also said the state government is considering not allowing production of sugarcane and its crushing this year, keeping in mind the drinking water crisis in the region and some parts of western Maharashtra.
There are 86 sugar mills in the drought-affected region and the water resource department is against the setting up of any new sugar mill in the region. People should live — our priority is to save human lives and cattle. Industry and agriculture is secondary and hence we have issued an order to reserve water stocks from all irrigation projects and minor sources for drinking purposes only,” said Khadse. “We are even considering not allowing production of sugarcane this year in Marathwada region as it requires huge amount of water. We will also consider prohibiting sugar mills from crushing this season.” Though the decision has not yet been taken, according to Mr Khadse, the proposal will be discussed in the Cabinet meeting. “Cabinet will take a final decision but we have no alternative to overcome the drought situation in the Marathwada region,” he said.
Osmanabad, Latur and Beed, parts of Ahmednagar and Solapur, Sangli districts are facing severe shortage of drinking water. The state is considering providing drinking water to Latur from Pandharpur through railways wagons. However, the stocks in all major and minor irrigation projects have been kept on reserve for drinking purposes only.
Maharashtra Sugar Commissioner Vipin Sharma, however, said nothing has been communicated from the department and the season is expected to begin normally on time.
Sanjeev Babar, MD, Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation said that with the water situation posing a major problem, mills have been contemplating if they should take a crushing licence in the new season. There is no water and there are no funds with the mills, he said.
If the government takes over the running of these mills, data shows the state has to make a provision of R20 crore for the salary of workers for every month, if the mills are closed, he added.
The report on water resources in the Godavari basin has recommended no more permission for any more sugar mills in Marathwada and the north Maharashtra region.The report and its recommendations are yet to be accepted by the water control authority.
When contacted, BB Thombre, president, Western India Sugar MIlls Association ( WISMA) confirmed that the meeting was held and said that mills do not have the funds to commence crushing in the new season, Then there is the water issue and the FRP issues is yet to be resolved, he said. Around 22 private millers of Marathwada region had attended the meeting, he added.
A recent survey conducted by the Western India Sugar Mills Association (WISMA) has revealed that while sugarcane plantation in Maharashtra may remain the same in the coming season, productivity could be affected by 25-30% owing to erratic rainfall across the state.
From a bumper production of 104.5 lakh tonne in the 2014-15 sugar season, output could come down to 70-75 lakh tonne in the coming season, the survey said.