Updated: October 31, 2021 10:16:00 am
Sugar mills in Maharashtra are stumped at a request made by the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MSEDCL), which asked them for help in recovering unpaid power bills from cane growers.
During a recent online meeting between Sugar Commissioner Shekhar Gaikwad and senior officials of MSEDCL, mill owners were told that they would receive 10 per cent of the recovered amount as reward.
The state cabinet, in 2020, had cleared an one-time settlement scheme for unpaid power dues from farmers. Clearance of unpaid agricultural dues had been one of the poll promises of the three parties in the ruling alliance — Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress.
The scheme waived off delayed payment charges and interest on it for five years. Consumers were given the opportunity to clear their unpaid dues, while paying their regular bills, at their convenience.
During the course of the recent meeting, which was attended by managing directors and general managers of sugar mills of Solapur, Pune, Kolhapur, Satara and Sangli, MSEDCL officers briefed them about the scheme These districts account for unpaid dues of nearly Rs 10,000 crore from 12 lakh farmers, said MSEDCL officers.
They also said that they have found cases of fraud, when affluent farmers have used the names of small and medium-scale land holders to avail electric connections and other benefits.
Under the scheme, mills which can convince cane growers to pay their unpaid dues will get 10 per cent of recovered amount. Spinning mills, self-help groups, sugar mills and primary dairy societies are mentioned in the proposal, which was cleared by the state cabinet.
However, sugar mill owners have expressed reservations about the scheme. Managing director of a cooperative sugar mill from Solapur, who attended the meeting, said it was not possible for them to deduct any amount from the Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP) they pay to farmers for the cane procured.
“We have asked them to clarify under which law can we do it. For any deduction, we have to take prior permission of the farmers and that is not possible on such a short notice,” he pointed out.
MSEDCL officers said the scheme was entirely voluntary. They also argued that mills already deduct crop loan from farmers’ bills.
Farmers, however, have strongly protested any such move.
Ankush Chormule, a cane grower from the town of Astha in Walva taluka of Sangli district, said most mills have started paying the basic FRP in installments. “If mills start deducting the unpaid electricity bill amount, we will hardly get anything in hand,” he said.
Chormule also said mills should not deduct any amount from farmers’ bills without their consent.
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