Ahead of crushing season set to begin on October 15, big sugar mills in the state want the government to convene a meeting at the earliest to determine the policy for the sugar sector.
The Maharashtra State Sugar Federation (MSSF) has written to the government to spell out the state’s policies to enable it to take decisions on different matters pertaining to the industry, including issuance of licences to sugar mills.
The chief minister usually holds a meeting in July to evolve policies for the sector. In the wake of the drought and crop loss, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has decided to reschedule the meeting.
Irrigation Minister Girish Mahajan has banned use of dam water for the sugar industry, which uses up huge amounts of water.
Fadnavis, who will return from his visit to Japan Sunday, had earlier said, the government’s priority was to provide drinking water to people and animals. “We are not against the sugar sector. But we will have to discuss and take pragmatic decisions,” he had said.
Former Congress minister and sugar mill owner Harshvardhan Patil, a member of the MSSF, said, “There is ambiguity in the sugar sector. Agriculture Minister Eknath Khadse indicated that the government would not allow crushing of sugarcane in the wake of drought.”
Mill owners believe that suspending operations would lead to a greater crisis. Directly and indirectly, according to official estimates, the sugar sector involves 25 to 27 lakh farmers, 2.5 lakh staff for administration and 8-10 lakh labourers.
“If this season is skipped, revival of mill operations next year would be a tedious task. There are several economic aspects involved, besides farmers’ interest,” Patil observed.
Khadse said, “I admit the government will have to convene a meeting to discuss details. But we will have to sort out the water problems. How can we allow sugarcane mills to use water from dams and canals when villages are reeling under drinking water shortage?”
He added, “Ideally, places where tankers are still deployed for supplying drinking water to villagers, cane crushing needs a re-look.”
The final decision will be taken after Fadnavis returns.
The matter would be discussed with Minister for Cooperation and Marketing Chandrakant Patil and the departments concerned.
Projecting a cane shortfall of upto 30 per cent, Patil acknowledged, “It is high time mill owners explored modern technology to minimise use of water during plantation and crushing.” Citing his own example, he said, “In cane cultivation, there cannot be any alternative to drip irrigation. We will also have to maximise recycling of technology to sustain mill operations.”
Patil said, “On an average, sugar mills with a capacity of 2500 tonnes crushing daily (TCD) will require 7-8 lakh litres every day. Those between 3,000 to 5,000 TCD will use 12 to 15 lakh litres and above 5,000 TCD will require 18 to 20 lakh litres. The crushing goes on 24 hours. While 25 per cent of the water can be recycled for distilleries that require 3 to 5 lakh litres per day, the operations are water intensive.”
He added, “At Indapur, my home turf, I made it clear to farmers that you cannot expect fair price remuneration at Rs 2,100 per tonne for sugarcane given to the sugar mills. The farmers have assured they have no problems.”
Patil said the cost would increase if they relied on water tankers to continue cane crushing in the mills.
If none of the 178 mills were allowed to operate, he said, the budget to compensate the sugar mills would run into Rs 7,000 crore.
With the sugar sector also paying six taxes to the government, Patil said, there were be other financial implications too.
The state earns revenue to the tune of Rs 4,000-5,000 crore from these six taxes — purchase tax, central excise, state excise, VAT, molasses/ distilleries and service tax.