Maharashtra should bring policy reforms to disallow new sugar mills in drought-prone districts for better management of water in the state, according to Prithviraj Chavan. The former chief minister and senior Congress leader expressed disappointment over the method for determining fair and remunerative price (FRP) for sugarcane and said it was impractical.
In an interview to The Indian Express, Chavan said, “I agree with water management expert Madhav Chitale that sugar mills should not be allowed in drought-prone Marathwada.”
He said relocation of existing sugar mills would require bold political decisions and political consensus, which looked difficult. However, Chavan added, the government could bring policy reforms to emphasise on strict norms for use of water, often diverted for sugarcane, a water intensive crop.
Some districts worst hit by drought have the highest number of sugar mills.
Chavan, who had promoted drip irrigation during the Congress-NCP regime led by him, said, “FRP is decided in the beginning of the year based on projections of sugar recovery. However, when this method was adopted, policymakers believed the base price of sugar would always increase. Over the years, we have seen sugar prices crashing, making it non-feasible for sugar mills to cope with higher FRP. As investment costs are higher than output from sale of sugar, it gets difficult for mills to pay minimum support price determined by the Centre. However, farmers have to be given rates as per FRP.”
As per law, sugar mills refusing to comply with FRP are liable for criminal prosecution.
In 2014, there were 178 sugar mills that failed to pay cane farmers FRP, mandatory as per centre’s directives. If the government were to act, all 178 mill owners should have been in jail, he said, adding, “Apart from policy changes, government should provide help to farmers and mills.”
Taking a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to declare Rs 1.25 lakh crore for Bihar, he said, “If the centre has so much funds, why not help farmers across the country? Whether it is north Karnataka, Marathwada in Maharashtra there are agro-crises.”
Speaking about drought mitigation in Maharashtra, he said, “I suggest they should make provisions for cattle camps and fodder.” My government had made provisions for one lakh cattle camps. Some lasted a year.