It takes 2,515 litres of water to produce a kilogram of sugar in Maharashtra, according to the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP). To put that in context, in rural areas of the State’s Aurangabad district, people pay around ₹1,000 to get 2,500 litres of tanker water for household use — as much as is needed to produce 1 kg of sugar.
In all, 195 sugar mills in Maharashtra have crushed 951.79 lakh tonnes of sugarcane to produce 1,071.94 lakh quintals of sugar this year, using 26.96 trillion litres of water. Twenty-six of the State’s 36 districts are reeling under water scarcity, but this has not affected cane cultivation and crushing as the State has surpassed last year’s (2017-18) sugar production of 1,067.81 lakh quintals.
The CACP, in its earlier reports, has observed that in Maharashtra, sugarcane cultivation, which takes place on less than 4 per cent of the total cropped area in the State, takes away almost 70 per cent of the State’s irrigation water, leading to massive inequity in its use.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has identified sugarcane as a major water-guzzling/water-intensive field crop as it requires a huge amount of water to produce a unit of output/economic yield. Indeed, 47 sugar mills crushed 167.35 lakh million tonnes of sugarcane in the Marathwada region, where just 5 per cent of water is left in dams.
A ‘successful’ season
The highest number (44) of sugar mills were operational in Solapur district, which is struggling to cater to the drinking water needs of its people. Solapur’s mills crushed 203.50 lakh mt of sugarcane.
The crushing season figures published by the State Sugar Commissioner’s office reflect that sugar barons have ensured a successful season during the drought, encouraging maximum sugarcane cultivation and crushing using available resources of water.
Maharashtra, known as the birthplace of cooperative sugar mills, is dotted with private mills. Of the 195 mills that were operational during this crushing season, 48 per cent are owned by private companies, mostly owned by politicians. Activists have repeatedly alleged that sugar barons not only encourage sugar cultivation, but also siphon off drinking water for cane crushing.
“Sugarcane is a water-intensive crop, and with water becoming an increasingly scarce resource, particularly due to severe droughts in the last two years, there is a need to optimise cane productivity not only per unit of land, but also per unit of water. Against this backdrop, the Commission recommends taking up drip irrigation in sugarcane on a much higher priority,” the CACP 2017-18 report observed.
The State has made drip irrigation compulsory for sugarcane cultivation, but farmers and sugar mills have not responded to the State’s initiative. Sugarcane in the State is mostly irrigated through a network of dams and canals.
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