Millers in the sugar bowl districts have ruled out any chance of accepting this demand, citing low sugar prices and large unsold stocks.
After a short spell of uncertainty, around 32 sugar factories in Maharashtra have commenced crushing operations. These factories, however, have commenced crushing in a nominal manner.
Maharashtra sugar commissioner Shekhar Gaikwad stated that no crushing data has been made available and factories have made symbolic beginning to mark the start of the 2019-20 season. Maharashtra governor B S Koshiyari had announced November 22 as the start of the season in consultation with the sugar commissioner and other senior government officials. The decision was taken in absence of cabinet of ministers since the government was yet to be formed.
Industry people feel that crushing should pick up now that the government has been formed even as several mills in Kolhapur and Sangli are yet to commence operations because of the demands put forth by farmer leaders in the region.
Farmer body Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana has demanded Rs 200 plus the government-declared fair and remunerative price (FRP) as the first installment payment for cane procured by the mills from farmers. To protest against the current price and demand a higher cane price, the Sanghatana members had stopping vehicles carrying harvested cane. However, this was stopped later by the farmer leaders who have given millers time until December 15 to accede to their demands, failing which the season would be stopped.
Millers in the sugar bowl districts have ruled out any chance of accepting this demand, citing low sugar prices and large unsold stocks. Several mill owners were in Mumbai because of the political developments and may return to Kolhapur to sort out this issue.
Till date, the Commissionerate has issued some 132 crushing licenses. Commissioner Gaikwad has already made it clear to millers that FRP dues would have to be deposited in farmer accounts within 13 days of the commencement of crushing failing which millers would have to pay an interest of 15% to farmers. As of November 15, mills in Maharashtra have cleared around 99.04% of their cane dues. Mills had to pay Rs 23,435 crore for cane procured from farmers and have paid `23,249 crore till now. Nearly 50 mills are yet to clear their dues, but are expected to clear the same within the next 15 days.
Some 55 mills have already been turned away by cooperative banks for pre-seasonal loans and are founding it difficult to raise funds for the start of the season. According to industry observers, the credit squeeze being faced by mills has also been one of the reasons for delay in crushing. Now that the coalition government has been formed, millers expect this to be resolved.
This year, farmers expect a higher price because cane availability is low. This season, cane grown on some 8.32 lakh hectares is expected to be crushed which will produce 58.23 lakh tonne of the sweetener.
Gaikwad estimates that 161 mills will be operational and will crush about 570 lakh tonne of the cane. Last season, 195 mills had crushed 952.60 lakh tonne of cane and produced 107.1 lakh tonne of sugar, the maximum amount of the sweetener produced in Maharashtra.The 2019-20 season has already been delayed by a month because of floods and the Assembly elections and its results in the state.