At the start of the 2020-21 sugarcane crushing season, farmer outfit Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana has demanded payment of full fair and remunerative price (FRP) as the first instalment of the season. The outfit’s leader and former MP, Raju Shetti, while addressing the 19th Cane Conclave online at Jaisinghpur on Monday, also demanded a 14 per cent payment over the FRP as additional payment to be released to farmers after the season is over. He also announced a rasta roko on November 5 to press for the demands of cane growers.
With many mills in the core sugar belt of Kolhapur district having already agreed to the demands raised by Shetti at the conclave, there might be no agitation in Kolhapur by cane growers this season.
Maharashtra’s crushing season has kicked off to a slow start as waterlogging has prevented harvesting labour from entering the fields. The sugar commissioner’s office has talked about 23 mills starting their season, although the state government had announced October 15 as the start date for the present crushing season. To date, 150 mills have got licence while 50 more are in the pipeline.
The cane conclave is the annual show of strength organised by farmer outfits, where Shetti declares their demands in way of payment for the upcoming season. This year’s conclave was held online in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. Shetti also tested positive for the virus, but has recovered after two weeks in the hospital.
Shetti, while addressing the conclave online, asked for full FRP as the first instalment. “Additionally, we demand 14 per cent rise to be paid to farmers after the season is over,” he said. This refers to the hike being promised to transport and harvesting staff, which will be deducted from the FRP payment of the farmer by the mill. Unlike their counterparts in Uttar Pradesh, cane growers in Maharashtra do not have to arrange for harvesting and transportation as the mills deal with it. Mills enter into an agreement with labourers, mainly from Beed and North Maharashtra, who come to the mill site at the start of the season to harvest and transport cane. This season, as per agreements entered with the Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation, mills have agreed to provide a 14 per cent hike in the charges.
On Saturday, some sugar mills in Kolhapur, led by state Minister of Home Satej Patil, met and declared that they would pay the FRP at one go. Both Patil and minister Hasan Mushrif, whose families control sugar mills in the district, said they would be paying the FRP at one go, but any payment higher than that was not feasible.
Mushrif, while speaking to The Indian Express, talked about pending subsidies that mills are yet to receive from the central government, which has hit their balance sheet. “In case the government does not decide to increase the minimum selling price of sugar, more than 50 per cent sugar mills in the state will not start operations next season,” he said.
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