State Sugar Commissioner Saurabh Rao has written to the Kolhapur district administration on Tuesday, seeking action against the management of the Sharad Cooperative Sugar Mill for allegedly allowing migrant harvesting labourers to leave the mill premises and go back to their villages despite the lockdown. Located in the Hatkanangale taluka, the mill is managed by Minister of State for Public Health, Food and Drugs Rajendra Patil Yedravkar, who is an independent MLA from Shirol taluka of the district.
The 2020-21 sugarcane crushing season is in its last leg in Maharashtra, with only a handful of the 146 mills which had taken season still in operation. It is estimated that nearly 15 lakh tonnes of cane remain to be harvested, with most of the mills having closed their operations. The coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown announced on the night of March 24 had put a question mark over the mills still operating.
Most of the migrant harvesting staff at the mills hail from Beed and other districts of Marathwada, and they travel to various parts of the state for work at the beginning of the season. Once the season ends, these labourers travel back to their native villages.
But given the lockdown and the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, many of the harvesters had expressed reservations about continuing with their work. Earlier this week, harvesters working in Satara had gone on strike demanding better facilities.
In an earlier circular, Rao had asked mills to provide masks, sanitiser and soaps to these labourers. Once the lockdown was announced, it was clarified that the migratory labourers should be housed at the mill site. The mills were also ordered to ensure that proper ration was made available to these labourers as shops and other establishments were closed due to the lockdown.
The sugar commissioner’s letter to the Kolhapur district collector pointed out that despite the lockdown, the managing director of the mill had allowed the labourers to go back to their villages. “Restrictions have been imposed on migration of these labourers and they should not be allowed to leave the sugar mill in the lockdown period. It has come to the notice of this office that the MD of Sharad Sahakari Sakhar Karkhana Ltd, Narande, taluka Hatkanangle, district Kolhapur, has permitted labourers to go back to their villages. This is in contravention to the guidelines of the government of India and government of Maharashtra,” read the letter.
The Kolhapur district administration has been asked by the commissioner to initiate action against the officers of the mill under relevant acts.
However, Santosh Digraje, managing director of the mill, denied the charges. “More than 1,000 labourers still remain at the mill site. Other labourers with bullock carts left on March 23-24, before the lockdown was announced,” he said.
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