Poor sugarcane crop is leading to cultivators demanding a higher price for their produce from sugar cooperatives, most of which are controlled by the Congress-NCP. The protests by farmers seeking remunerative prices have turned violent in western Maharashtra.
Maharashtra is expected to have an output of just 545 lakh metric tons (LMT) this year as compared to last year’s 771 LMT. While the 2011-12 crushing season saw about 170 sugar factories functioning, the number this year is expected to drop to 140.
The scarcity, which has been caused due to poor rains as well, has seen farmer organisations make demands for the “first advance” given to farmers after harvesting their cane. The state has not intervened in the issue so far.
Lok Sabha MP Raju Shetty of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, who has launched an agitation to stop the harvesting and transport of sugarcane to mills, demanded an advance of Rs3,000 per ton for farmers.
“The sugar mills have begun operations without giving last year’s final rate and this year’s first advance to farmers,” he said.
Last year, the state had announced a first advance of Rs2,050 per ton for Kolhapur and Sangli, Rs1,850 for Pune, Ahmednagar and Solapur and Rs1,800 for the rest of Maharashtra. While Ravi Devang of the Sharad Joshi-led Shetkari Sanghatana demanded a first advance of Rs3,100 per ton for Pune and Ahmednagar and Rs2,900 for the rest of Maharashtra, farmer leader Raghunathdada Patil sought Rs4,500.
“The mithai, medicine, soft drinks and confectionary sectors account for bulk of sugar sales. There is no need to give them sugar at low rates at the cost of farmers,” said Patil.
Former deputy chief minister Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil, who heads the Maharashtra Rajya Sahakari Sakhar Karkhana Sangh Limited, said, “The sugar factories and farmers must decide the rate.” Doing away with the 10% levy on sugar production will enable mills to give an additional Rs205 per ton to farmers, Mohite-Patil said.