Maharashtra sugar season all set for stormy beginning

Maharashtra is all set for a stormy start to the sugar season as talks between millers in Kolhapur and farmer outfit Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) have failed due to the millers’ alleged reluctance to pay Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP) to cane growers in a single installment — a key demand made by the Raju Shetti-led outfit.

The SSS is also demanding higher compensation per tonne from sugar mills in the form of bonus over and above the FRP of Rs 2,750 per tonne fixed by the Centre in July.

At the meeting held in Kolhapur on late Sunday evening, millers spoke about their financial difficulties and proposed to pay FRP to farmers in three installments, triggering a walkout by members of the SSS.

The millers were led by MLA Satej Patil and MLA Prakash Awade. Swabhimani Sanghatana is slated to hold its annual Oos Parishad (cane conference) at Jaisinghpur on November 23 where its leaders are likely to take a decision on cane price.

The price decided by the Sanghatana is usually taken as the final price and mills across the state follow the formula decided by the farmer body.

Jalandhar Patil of the Sanghatana declared that the outfit would not allow cane to be supplied to even a single mill in Kolhapur until the rate is finalised.

Talking about Sunday’s meeting, Awade said no decision was possible since the farmer body is yet to decide the final rate. Terming it as a primary meeting, he said that the millers asked the Sanghatana members about their demands and since the rate is yet to be confirmed by SSS leaders, further talks could not be held.

Sanghatana leader Shetti pointed out that the millers were insisting on FRP payment in installments. “Our demand is clear. Make cane payments to farmers in a single amount and we are asking for higher compensation over and above the FRP,” he said.

This year, farmers expect a higher price because cane availability is low. Cane was grown this season on 8.32 lakh hectare and its crushing is likely to produce 58.23 lakh tonne of sweetener.

Sugar commissioner Shekhar Gaikwad estimates that during the current season, 161 mills will be operational and collectively crush 570 lakh tonne of the cane.

Last season, 195 mills had crushed 952.60 lakh tonne cane and produced 107.1 lakh tonne sugar, the highest produced in the state. Gaikwad has sent a proposal to the government recommending November 25 as the start of the crushing season of 2019-20

The governor is expected to chair a meeting of industry and commissionerate representatives on November 19, when the plan is likely to get a formal approval.

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