WITH CHIEF Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Minister of State for Co-operation Gulabrao Patil deciding to skip the annual general body meeting in Pune-based Vasantdada Sugar Institute, former agriculture minister Sharad Pawar took to the stage to advised the sugar sector to “brace up for hard times”.
The recent directives of the state government of charging millers for harvesting and transport as per the distance have invited a flak from the sugar sector. The millers have also sought an appointment with the chief minister early next week to discuss the harvest and transport (HnT) charges, among other issues.
Till last year, sugar mills charged a uniform rate of Rs 650 per tonne of the cane crushed as the HnT cost. As per the new directives, the HnT cost will depend on the actual distance of the field from the mills. Thus, farmers whose fields are closer to the mill will be charged lesser than those whose cane had to travel further distance.
Unlike in Uttar Pradesh, millers in Maharashtra make arrangements for harvesting and transportation of cane from the fields of growers in lieu of a fixed charge, which is deducted from the final payment of the farmer.
At the event, Pawar said this mechanism was not suitable for cooperative mills. “I have raised the problems faced by the sector with both the central and state government. However, I do not know if they will be ready to help. In such a scenario, it is best for the sector to take steps to tide over the crisis.” “This will hit the availability of cane and needs to reconsidered,” he added.
Former minster and senior Congress leader Harashvardhan Patil said the “decision was taken without taking into account the present legal framework”. District collectors, Patil said, have been asked to determine the transportation costs, but barring Aurangabad, no one has submitted the data. “We will be meeting the chief minister in the first week of January and are hopeful that the old system will be reinstated,” he added.
On the absence of the CM and the MoS, Pawar said the chief minister had gone to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the Gujarat government and had expressed his inability to attend the meeting. Perhaps this would be the first year that the biggest event of the sugar industry happened in the absence of top government participation.
The major part of Pawar’s speech was devoted to the “greater crisis looming over the sector” in view of a “bumper crop” next year (2018-19). Initial estimates have put the next year’s cane average in Maharashtra alone at over 9 lakh hectares and over 90 lakh tonnes of sugar is expected to be produced in the state. The former agriculture minister said, in view of the increased cane availability, mills might have to start their crushing operations earlier. Although, he added, it might result in lower sugar recovery. Growers are expected to get compensation in case mills fail to crush their cane in time.
He said, “The extra cane will seriously pose a problem for the millers but, in absence of government help, mills have to make arrangements themselves to ensure 100 per cent crushing. Mills might explore signing per-season MoUs to transport cane from surplus to deficit areas.”