The protests by the Shetkari Sanghatana, the farmers’ association, in Baramati – the home turf of Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar – entered its fourth day. The protests have affected 15 cooperative mills in the area.
The farmers are demanding rise in sugarcane prices and minimum wages paid to labours for harvesting and transportation. They have not allowed sugar mill owners to load trucks and have demanded that mills cannot sell sugar below Rs 3,000 per quintal or Rs 30 per kg in the retail market.
Mills are selling sugar at Rs 2200-2,400 per quintal.
The supply shortage from the region has led to a surge in sugar prices by Rs 50-75 per quintal in neighbouring states, benefitting traders and suppliers from Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat among others.
Raghunath Patil, convenor of the agitation told Business Standard: “We want that mills to sell sugar not below Rs 30 per kg and they should pay the first advance of Rs 2,200 per tonne to farmers. The labourers, who are involved in sugarcane cutting, harvesting and transportation should be paid minimum wages of Rs 200. We will continue our agitation till our demands are met.”
The state Cooperation and Marketing Minister Harshvardhan Patil said he would soon convene a meeting with all concerned to ensure that sale of sugar is not hampered.
Sources at the Federation of Cooperative Sugar Factories in Maharashtra said it would not be possible for mills to pay Rs 3,000 per quintal. “Now there are expectations of a sharp fall in the prices of sugarcane due to dip in prices of sugar. Nearly 20 per cent is released as levy at Rs 1,800 per quintal, which creates pressure on mills and thereby they will not be in a position to pay higher cane price to farmers.”
The Federation official said: “Sugar mills owned by farmers themselves have been paying Rs 1,000 per tonne more than the statutory minimum price (SMP) in the state. Traditionally, Maharashtra sugar mills are paying much more than the fair and remunerative price (FRP). Last year the average FRP was Rs 1,575 per tonne while the average cane price paid by mills was Rs 2,500 per tonne.”
Going by the same rule and considering the drop in sugar prices, mills are expected to pay at least Rs 500 per tonne more than the FRP which itself coming to Rs 2,200.”
He also said that mills cannot sell sugar below Rs 30 per kg as they might attract penal action under the provisions of Monopoly Restrictive Trade Practices Act (MRTPA) which is stringent for an essential commodity like sugar.
On the farmers’ demand for payment of a minimum wage of Rs 200 to labourers, the Federation official said it was unreasonable because sugar realisation has gone down over the last entire year.
The existing wage is Rs 121 per tonne and a 19 per cent rise has already been announced by Patil. This would ensure a wage of Rs 155 per tonne on a par with what labourers in Karnataka, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu are paid.
Federation sources said such pressure tactics is not going to help the state. But it would help neighbouring states like MP and Gujarat and North Eastern states where sugar prices have gone up on the prospects of restrictions of sugar flow from the state.
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However, the finance minister maintains that some element of subsidy will have to remain for a large section