The deadlock between the Centre and the state over the minimum support price for sugarcane triggered violence on Thursday,with agitating farmers blocking roads and resorting to stone-pelting and burning of buses in Kolhapur,Satara and Sangli. Farmers agitating under the banner of Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana,led by Lok Sabha MP Raju Shetty,have started a 48-hour bandh in the states sugar belt.
Sugar factories have not been able to start crushing cane this season due to what they called unreasonable demand of the farmers.
While the Centre has fixed the MSP at Rs 2,100 per quintal,factories have unilaterally agreed to procure cane at higher prices up to Rs 2,500 a quintal. The farmers,however,want the MSP to be increased to Rs 3,000 per quintal.
In a meeting on Tuesday,Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan apprised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the unrest among farmers given the governments inability to increase the remuneration for cane. Harshvardhan Patil,Maharashtra Minister for Cooperation and Markets,said: The sugar factories cannot consider the farmers demand as sugar prices in the open market have crashed resulting in losses.
In 2012-13,sugar prices in the open market stood at Rs 3,300-Rs 3,400 per quintal at the beginning of the crushing season. The prices have now crashed to Rs 2,600-Rs 2,650 per quintal. What has further compounded the problems for Maharashtra is the surplus stock of 24 lakh metric tonnes of sugar. The total sugar production in the country last year was 250 lakh metric tonnes.
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Maharashtra Finance Minister Ajit Pawar said,The state will be guided by the Centre. He appealed to Shetty to withdraw the agitation and allow crushing of sugarcane. In Maharashtra,the factories are not going against the MSP. While ensuring higher remuneration for farmers,we have to also consider stability of sugar prices, he added.
According to Pawar,prolonged agitation will affect farmers because cane will not bring any dividend unless completely crushed.
Senior officers of the sugar commissionerate,meanwhile,said a policy-level decision regarding the pricing of sugar was expected in the next two days.
The states primary concern now is to defuse the farmers agitation to ensure law and order.
While no casualty was reported on Thursday,passengers were badly affected as several state transport buses went off the roads after some of them were damaged by the protesters.
Nearly 40 buses at Panchwat Phaata in Karad taluka of Satara district were damaged,while more than 24 milk tankers were stopped in Kolhapur. Agitators felled more than 21 trees at various places on the Karad-Dhebewadi road,bringing the vehicular traffic to a halt.
Late on Wednesday night,agitators had allegedly set on fire a state transport bus in Karad,but the decision of the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation to cancel more than 170 buses prevented any more such incident. A milk tanker was overturned on the Pune-Satara highway in Karad,while tractors carrying vegetables and fruits were stopped at many places.
SSS leader Sadabhau Khot claimed the bandh was 100 per cent successful with even traders supporting the strike.
The weekly market at Valva was closed today,with the traders supporting the agitating farmers. The bandh has stopped the supply of milk and vegetables to metros like Pune and Mumbai and it would continue on Friday also, he said.
Minister for Rural Development Jayant Patil drew angry reactions following his alleged remarks asking the police to make efforts to end the agitation. At Jaysinghpur,Malkapur and other places,effigies of the minister were burnt.