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Political crisis, Maharashtra cane farmers’ demand for higher price hold up crushing

Nanda Kasabe
sugarcane, sugarcane farmers, sugarcane industry

Not a single sugar mill has started crushing despite Maharashtra's sugar season of 2019-20 officially commencing on Friday, a disturbing development being linked to the ongoing political crisis in the state and the aggressive agitation launched by farmer body Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) for seeking higher prices for cane growers.

The farmer outfit has demanded Rs 200 per tonne over and above the fair and remunerative price (FRP) as cane payment to farmers and threatened millers that they would not let crushing begin in the state unless the millers agree to this demand.

A proposed meet between farmer leaders and sugar millers could not take place on Monday as most of the millers are stationed in Mumbai and are not reachable due to the on-going political developments. A majority of the millers are affiliated to political parties.

The millers, most of whom are MLAs from Kolhapur district, had proposed a meeting with the SSS for talks on cane prices after a farmer conference held at Jaisinghpur where SSS leader Raju Shetti declared the cane price per tonne.

Although the sugar season officially began on Friday, not a single mill in the state has commenced cane crushing because of the agitation by the SSS, Maharashtra sugar commissioner Shekhar Gaikwad said, adding that he did not expect crushing to begin before the month-end.

Jalinder Patil, SSS leader from Kolhapurm said that they have already put forward two major demands that Rs 200 per tonne be paid in addition to FRP.

"We were expecting that millers would accept this in the meeting scheduled for today but considering the political developments in Mumbai, the meeting did not take place. I am waiting for the millers to get in touch with us," he said.

Patil said the Sanghatana has given millers time until December 15 to accept to their demands failing which the farmer body would intensify its agitation.

"At present, we are not stopping cane from reaching factories because the farmer is our first concern and we wish that miller first purchase the cane from the flood affected areas. Around 40% of the cane in these parts are from the flood affected regions and if the millers do not purchase this cane and instead purchase cane which has not been damaged, the farmer will be left in the lurch and would not be in a position to prepare for a new crop," he said.

All millers from Kolhapur district had come together under the leadership of Congress MLC Satej Patil and independent MLA Prakash Awade had called for a meeting with SSS activists in an attempt to find a way out over cane crushing price. Accordingly, all parties agreed to meet on November 25 after the SSS declared their demand of per tonne sugarcane price and discuss the same.

Shetti at the annual cane conference held on Saturday at Jaisinghpur had put forth a demand for Rs 200 per tonne over and above the FRP. He also said that the government must file a criminal case against sugar mills that have not paid pending cane arrears of the farmers for 2018-19 crushing season.

Last week, members of the farmer outfit allegedly torched 10 trucks ferrying cane in Kolhapur. The incident took place when cane harvested from local fields was being taken to a mill in Karnataka through Kolhapur's Shirol taluka.

Millers then said they would wait for the annual cane conference and meet farmer leaders to find a way out.
Earlier, the SSS had demanded FRP payment in one go but mill owners expressed their inability to pay the basic FRP in a single instalment and ruled out any payment above the FRP.