With less than two months for the 2019-20 crushing season to begin, the Yogi Adityanath government has put the 'sugarcane mafia' on its radar for weeding it out from the cane supply chain in Uttar Pradesh.
According to rough estimates, the sugarcane mafia causes an annual economic loss of almost Rs 4,000 crore to the state sugarcane sector on account of dried-out crop, under-weighing and consequent sub-optimum sugar recovery.
Essentially, the sugarcane mafia refers to unscrupulous middlemen who permeate the cane matrix by deviously enrolling as bona fide farmers with cane societies. During the crushing season, they procure sugarcane from unorganised small farmers at throwaway spot payment for onward selling to mills at much higher government-fixed state-advised price (SAP).
On Tuesday, UP chief secretary Anup Chandra Pandey had expressed concern over the presence of this mafia in the sugarcane supply chain and the consequent losses.
He directed the respective district magistrates for completing cent percent survey of the state cane area for the coming crushing season (Oct-Sep) and ensuring 10 per cent random physical crosschecking of collated data for validating bona fide sugarcane farmers and weeding out the sugarcane mafia.
Pandey stressed on the importance of the sugarcane survey for the sustainability of the sugarcane value chain and the prosperity of nearly 4 million cane farmers. The survey work is backed by the Geographical Positioning System (GPS) for transparency, apart from scientific data collection and analysis.
Recently, the state government had announced that it would invoke the National Security Act (NSA) against the sugarcane mafia, apart from taking action against complicit officials and farmers, too.
However, the sugarcane department had also claimed that the phenomenon had been controlled to a large extent over the past two years. The annual sugarcane economy in UP, the country's largest sugar producer, is to the tune of more than Rs 40,000 crore.
During the 2017-18 sugarcane crushing season, the state had filed about 28 first information reports (FIRs) against the sugarcane mafia, apart from 15 other cases for under-weighing at purchase centres.
In the 2018-19 crushing cycle, 119 sugar mills, including 94 private, 24 cooperative and a UP State Sugar Corporation unit, had participated in crushing. The state sugar output stood at about 11.8 million tonnes (MT) compared to over 12 MT in 2017-18.
Recently, the Adityanath government had set the deadline of August 31 for UP mills to liquidate their respective farmers' arrears for the current 2018-19 crushing season.
Against total cane payables of Rs 33,047 crore, state mills have so far paid more than 75 per cent, or nearly Rs 25,000 crore, to farmers, thus leaving about Rs 8,000 crore in arrears for the 2018-19 cycle.
Private sugar mills accounted for 95 per cent of the remaining dues in UP at Rs 7,600 crore, followed by UP cooperative units at about Rs 400 crore. Now, the state is promoting ethanol production to insulate mills from the cyclical nature of the sugar industry.