In anticipation of increased cane area for 2017-18, the state government plans to take steps to restart the sugar mills that have ceased operations. State Cooperation Minister Subhash Deshmukh announced the decision, adding that the government will extend “all necessary help” to speed up the process.
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Deshmukh, speaking to The Indian Express, said the decision was taken to avoid collection of unharvested cane in the fields. Due to the drought last year, cane area across Maharashtra had seen a sharp dip with only 6.33 lakh hectares of farm land reporting cultivation. Good monsoons and successful water retention schemes under the “Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyaan” in various parts of the state will see an increase in cane area for the crushing season of 2017-18. It is expected that the cane area for the next season will be around 10 lakh hectare and a bumper crop of cane is expected.
“It has been observed that in many cases, due to shortage of mills, cane remains unharvested. To avoid this, non-operational mills in those areas will be restarted,” he said, adding that a preliminary survey to identify such mills has already started.
The state will explore all possible means to help interested parties in running the mills. “We are drawing up a detailed plan and will seek bidders for the mills,” he said. The state government is ready to bear the working capital, if needed. Defunct mills in Marathwada, Ahmednagar, Solapur, Pune districts are being checked for the purpose.
This year, 32 mills have not commenced crushing due to paucity of cane, among other issues.
The government’s decision comes at a time when the sugar sector in the state is reeling under cumulative effect of low prices and under-utilisation of their capacities. Several mills fear that their accounts with various banks will be deemed as a Non-performing asset (NPA) and it would be difficult to start operations next year. Estimates by the millers show that about 60 per cent of the mills might not be able to start operations.
A delegation of the millers, led by former Union Minister Sharad Pawar, had met Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitely on Tuesday to press for the restructuring of repayment of various loans levied on them. Deshmukh said the chief minister is likely to meet the finance minister to discuss the matter.
As of December 31, 82 per cent of fair and remunerative price (FRP) have been paid in the state. Around 100 of the 147 mills have in fact defaulted in their payment and officers of the sugar commissionerate are taking steps to increase the amount.