Confirming the development, a senior state government official said, “Discussions are underway to close down all distilleries in and around Hapur and Bijnor, around 600 kilometres away from Prayagraj formerly Allahabad, due to fear of water pollution during the Mela (Kumbh).”
Water stream in the Ganga river which rises in the western Himalayas, passes through Hapur and Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh. Thus, there is fear of polluting both ground water in the region and also sacred water stream in the Ganga river. The Prayagraj Ardh Kumbh Mela 2019, a periodic holy event for Hindus, is scheduled to take place between January 15 and March 4 next year, in which millions of Hindus gather to take bath in the holy Ganga river at Prayagraj formerly known as Allahabad. Some devotees stay there for over a month to take bath every day which they feel would pave the way for 'moksha'.
“The government is of the view that distilleries around Hapur and Bijnor districts would pollute ground water in the vicinity and its spillover into the sacred Ganga river. Hence, we are looking to close these distilleries to prevent them from discharging water into the open area,” said a senior Uttar Pradesh government official.
While a majority of them are independent distilleries, some of them are attached with sugar mills. This means, closure of both independent and attached distilleries would result into automatic shut down of sugar mills also. While the capacity of these sugar mills and distilleries are not immediately ascertained, a senior government official said that these units are owned by large sugar mills including Bajaj Hindusthan, Simbhaoli Sugar Mills, Dwarikesh Sugar Industries, Dhampur Sugar and Birla Sugar.
With the industry body the Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA) estimates a rise in cane and sugar output in Uttar Pradesh, closure of mills for three months during the peak crushing season would prove a major blow for farmers who need to transport cane to far away mills in the vicinity. Sugar mills in turn have also invested immensely on these units. Their closure during the peak crushing season would result into a massive loss on continued fixed cost and depreciation from the plant and machinery.
“Distilleries in and around Hapur and Bijnor districts are given license on ‘zero discharge’ which means neither they take nor release water from the system. Hence, there is no question of water pollution as apprehension raised by the government. Closure of distilleries would result into difficulties in handling with molasses and, therefore, automatic shut down of sugar mills,” said a top executive of a leading sugar mills in Bijnor.
ISMA in its second advanced estimate has forecast an increase in cane acreage in Uttar Pradesh due to sowing of high yielding cane – Co0238 – variety, resulting into 1-1.5 million tonnes of additional sugar output this year. Despite untimely rainfalls and water logging in cane field this year, overall sugar output is estimated at 12.1 million tonnes this year, marginally higher from 12.05 million tonnes.
Meanwhile, sugar industry has strongly opposed the government’s proposed move. Sugar mills across these two districts are planning to take the state government to court for which they are waiting for closure order.
“We are waiting for the government to issue orders to close factories in Hapur and Bijnor. Once they come, we would seek intervention from the court,” said the executive quoted above.
Sugar mills across India are facing supply glut with over 10 million tonnes of surplus stock availability, ISMA’s forecast of 30.5 million tonnes of the sweetener output this year would worsen sugar supply scenario this year due to India’s estimated consumption of 25 million tonnes.