The government on Wednesday approved a Rs 45 billion package for the sugar industry that includes over two-fold jump in production assistance to cane growers and transport subsidy to mills for export up to 5 million tonnes in the marketing year 2018-19, sources said.
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) approved the food ministry's proposal that seeks to address the surplus domestic stock of sugar and help mills in clearing huge cane arrears of around Rs 130 billion.
With assembly elections due in some states and upcoming general polls in mid-2019, the government wants to address cane growers payment issue.
This is the second financial package to bail out the sugar industry after Rs 85 billion in June. The industry is facing a glut-like situation because of record production of 32 million tonnes (MT) in the 2017-18 marketing year (October-September), resulting in a closing stock of 10 MT at the end of this month.
Under its 'Comprehensive policy to deal with excess sugar production in the country', the ministry has recommended offsetting cost of sugarcane to sugar mills by increasing the production assistance paid to growers at Rs 13.88 per quintal for the 2018-19 marketing year from Rs 5.50 per quintal for this year.
With low global prices, the ministry has suggested helping mills to export 5 million tonnes of sugar under the Minimum Indicative Export Quota (MIEQ) during 2018-19 by compensating expenses towards internal transport, freight, handling and other charges.
Sources said the ministry has proposed a transport subsidy of Rs 1,000 per tonne for the mills located within 100 km from ports, Rs 2,500 per tonne for a mill located beyond 100 km from the port in coastal states and Rs 3,000 tonnes per tonne for mill located in other than coastal states.
Like in the current year, the production assistance will directly be credited into the sugarcane farmers' account on behalf of the mills as part of the government's measures to clear more than Rs 135 billion in arrears sugar mills have towards farmers.
Sources has earlier said the government will have to bear about Rs 45 billion on account of these measures to help sugar mills and cane farmers.
These steps will enable mills to boost sugar exports and clear cane arrears, which currently stand at Rs 135.67 billion. Mills in Uttar Pradesh owe the maximum at Rs 98.17 billion to cane farmers.
India's sugar output is set to increase further to 35 MT in the next marketing year from 32 MT in 2017-18. The annual domestic demand stands at 26 MT.
The government has taken a slew of measures to bail out sugar mills as well as cane farmers in the last one year.
First, it doubled the import duty on sugar to 100 per cent and then scrapped the export duty on it. It also made it compulsory for millers to export two million tonnes of sugar even as global prices were low.
In June, the government had announced a Rs 85 billion package for the industry, which included soft loans of Rs 44.4 billion to mills for creating ethanol capacity. It will bear an interest subvention of Rs 13.31 billion for this.
The Centre had also announced assistance of Rs 5.50 per quintal of cane crushed, amounting to Rs 15.40 billion to mills. Around Rs 12 billion was allocated for the creation of 3 MT buffer stock of sugar. The minimum selling price of the sweetener has been fixed at Rs 29 per kg.
Early this month, the government had approved an over 25 per cent hike in the price of ethanol produced directly from sugarcane juice for blending in petrol, in a bid to cut surplus sugar production and reduce oil imports.
The price for ethanol produced from B-heavy molasses (also called intermediary molasses) was hiked to Rs 52.43 a litre from the current Rs 47.13, but that for ethanol produced from C-heavy molasses was reduced marginally to Rs 43.46 from Rs 43.70.