Maharashtra farmer organisations on warpath, but cane workers in celebratory mood

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Published: April 25, 2015 12:04:21 AM

While farmer organisations in Maharashtra are up in arms against sugar mills...

While farmer organisations in Maharashtra are up in arms against sugar mills for their failure to pay the fair and remunerative price on time, and the government for delays in policy announcements, cane workers seem to be a happy lot as they are expecting a wage hike.

Srirang Bhange, state secretary, Maharashtra Ustod Kamgar Vahtuk Majoor Sanghatana, which looks into issues related to sugar workers, claimed CM Devendra Fadnavis had made an announcement on the floor of the House with regard to the wage hike. “The CM had stated that workers will receive a 20% hike in wages and he has given an assurance this will happen soon,” Bhange told FE. According to him, the government has assured workers that they will now receive Rs 238 per tonne instead of Rs 190 per tonne. Workers have been demanding a wage hike since last year. Although they had threatened to agitate before the start of the season in November last year. they went back on the decision since the organisation is affiliated to the BJP that has come to power in Maharashtra.

Bhange expects the notification to be issued in the next eight days and maintained that the increase in worker wages could be part of the Rs 2,000 crore interest-free loan package recently announced by the state. According to him, around 15-16 lakh workers have cut cane this season and they should be getting the increase in wages from this season itself.

Industry sources however maintained that no formal announcement has come in yet from the government and Fadnavis has only assured that the state will recommend a 20% hike in wages.

Sanjeev Babar, MD, Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Association, said the hike in wages is highly unlikely in the light of issues being faced by mills while making FRP payments to farmers. The federation had written to the earlier CM to set up a tri-partite panel to look into worker agreements and has also taken up the issue with the current CM, he said.

Some 15-16 lakh casual labourers will cut cane this season.“Almost every district that cultivates cane has seen a rise of around 30,000 workers. The maximum number of 5 lakh workers has come from drought-prone areas and areas reporting crop failure, including Vidarbha, Marathwada and Beed regions. They have been forced into this for survival,” Bhange said.

Under normal circumstances, around 12-14 lakh workers in the state are dependent on the sugar sector for livelihood. “At present, workers receive wages of Rs 190 per tonne while payment for harvesters is around Rs 450 per tonne,” he added. A couple of workers can cut up to 2 tonne of cane a day while a harvester can cut up to 60 tonne per day.

Meanwhile, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) led by MP Raju Shetti, has decided to agitate and plan a meet on May 3 in Sangli to decide the modalities of the agitation. Shetti, who is a BJP ally, is cut up with the government for not inviting him for a sugar meet in Pune on April 25.

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