The ongoing agitation by sugarcane farmers in Western Maharashtra turned violent on Friday with agitators reportedly torching the extension offices of two cooperative sugar mills in Sangli. With farmer leader and MP Raju Shetti calling for a chakka jam on Sunday, no easy solution to the problem seems to be in sight.
Since the start of the crushing season of 2018-19, farmers, especially in the sugar bowl of Western Maharashtra, have been agitating for better payment. Shetti, who heads the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, had asked for a first instalment payment of Rs 2,950 per quintal linked to the base recovery of 9.5 per cent. This year, the fair and remunerative price of cane has been fixed to Rs 2,750 per quintal and linked to base recovery rate of 10 per cent instead of the earlier rate of 9.5 per cent.
For Kolhapur district with an average recovery of 12.50 per cent, the first instalment payment would come to Rs 3,817 per quintal. Millers have, however, expressed their inability to accede to their demands and decided to suspend their crushing operations in view of the ongoing strike.
On Friday, divisional agricultural offices of the Rajarambapu Cooperative Sugar Mill and Vasantdada Patil Cooperative Sugar Mill were allegedly torched by agitating farmers. Prior to that, farmers have been preventing the transportation and harvesting of cane from the fields in various parts of the area. In view of the ongoing strike, most mills in the region had earlier decided to suspend their crushing operations. Another reason for the stoppage of the mills was the non arrival of the harvesting labourers, who were detained due to the ongoing Diwali festivity. The current crushing season that started on October 20 has witnessed just around 50 mills starting till date.
The agitations have mainly been concentrated in the Sangli-Kolhapur region. Drought, along with white grub attack, had threatened the standing cane in other parts, which had prompted farmers to seek early harvest. Sanghatana leaders from Pune and Marathwada maintained that they have not taken to the streets in view of the threat to the cane. Growers in Kolhapur, Sangli do not have that impediment and thus the agitation for higher prices have gained momentum there.
Millers termed the demands of the Sanghatana as non-feasible and approached Chandrakant Pail, the guardian minister of Kolhapur and revenue minister of the state, for an early solution to this imbroglio. Patil had assured millers that they would meet Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to resolve the crisis, but the meeting is yet to take place. Millers have called another round of meeting on Saturday, but Sanghatana members are yet to be invited.