Agri Business

Poll effect: Maharashtra govt handles sugar lobby with kid gloves

Radheshyam Jadhav Pune | Updated on September 11, 2019

Notwithstanding the consecutive droughts and scanty rainfall, the State government has decided not to take any concrete steps to curb sugarcane crop or control excess use of water for cultivation in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra.

With State elections likely to be announced next month, the ruling party is unwilling to annoy the sugar lobby and cane cultivators.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis recently told reporters that since 2007, suggestions have been made to reduce sugarcane cultivation to save water. He added that all sugarcane cultivation in drought-hit Marathwada should be brought under micro-irrigation and alternate crops should be taken up where drought has been perennial.

However, this is not for the first time that the Chief Minister has expressed concern over excessive use of water for sugarcane cultivation. In 2017, the State government made drip irrigation compulsory for sugarcane cultivation. The State announced loans of up to ₹85,400 per hectare at subsidised interest rates of 2 per cent to farmers.

However, the scheme remains on paper and farmers continue to use the traditional irrigation system to grow sugarcane. Twenty-six of the State’s 36 districts faced water scarcity last season, but still the State produced 1,067.81 lakh quintals of sugar. Despite the severe drought, 47 mills in Marathwada crushed cane last season.

“ Sugarcane farming is the source of livelihood for nearly 2.5 crore people living in rural Maharashtra. Also, there are lakhs of people who get direct and indirect employment during the sugarcane season. The State government will not take any step that will disturb this fabric,” said a senior official.

Although the area under sugarcane forms about 10 per cent of the gross cultivated area of the State, it appropriates 71.4 per cent of all irrigation water. There has been no policy change regarding sugarcane cultivation nor an effort to understand the water requirement and the ramifications of functioning sugar mills.

Political analysts say that sugar barons across party lines ensure that their interests in sugar economy are not disturbed. “Earlier, sugar was the domain of the NCP and Congress leaders. Now all party leaders are involved in it. In fact, sugarcane and sugar mills are the lifelines of many politicians in the State,” said analyst Nishikant Bhalerao.


Published on September 11, 2019

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