Pune: Maharashtra is the country's largest sugar-producing state, with 40% of the country's total sugar out put. The growth of the sugar industry in the state has been synonymous with the growth of the state's co-operative industry. But the present scenario in the state's sugar sector is not good. Reports of financial mismanagement in sugar factories across the state are emerging. Besides, aggrieved farmers had recently locked up the staff of the sugar commissionerate in Pune, demanding better prices for sugar cane. The state's sugar commissioner, Vijay Singhal, tells Partha Sarathi Biswas about the various problems plaguing the sector in the state and its future.
What is the expected sugar production in the state this year and how serious is the problem of delay in harvest of sugar cane?
This year we are expecting the sugar production to be around 82-90 lakh metric tonnes, which would be a slight rise as compared to last year. The delay in harvesting the sugar cane crop is a very serious problem. This is due to the socio-economic change in society at large.
Traditionally, sugar cane was harvested by a certain class of people, who practised it as their ancestral profession. However, thanks to the growth of other employment opportunities, many of them switched to other lucrative options.
While the state requires 9-l0 lakh of sugar cane harvesters annually, the shift has resulted in shortfall of 3-4 lakh harvesters. This has resulted in the delay in harvesting of the crop. In order to speed up the harvesting, the state government recently introduced a mechanised harvester for sugar cane crop. Moreover, a 50% subsidy has been announced for groups of farmers pooling in to buy the machine and 20% subsidy in case the sugar factories are making the purchase.
Sugar factories have been demanding a rise in the limit for sugar exports. What is the state government's plan for it?
The state government has made a policy decision to allow export of sugar in phases. This decision has been taken so that the prices of sugar in international market do not plummet in the face of extra availability. The government has been allowing export of 15 lakh metric tonnes in phases, but post Diwali, 20 lakh metric tonnes would be allowed to be exported. As for the price of sugar cane, the state government is yet to take a decision on the issue.
The sugar industry has been rocked by scams and mismanagement of co-operative sugar factories. It has also been frowned upon by the central and state pollution control boards for being a very polluting industry.
How are you planning to handle the situation?
As the sugar industry is being run by the co-operative sector, the government has partial control over it. Yes, there have been cases of mismanagement and scams in sugar factories, but we have stepped up vigil.
At times, the banks step in to clear the debts and to take charge of the functioning of the factories. The sugar commissionerate is keeping a close watch on the working of the factories to prevent any wrongdoing. We are also planning to send a delegation of farmers to Tamil Nadu to learn the techniques to increase the hectarage (output per hectare) of sugar cane in the fields. We have asked the factories to strictly adhere to the norms set up by the central and state pollution control boards.