Cane farmers’ stir turns violent

Rahul Wadke Mumbai | Updated on November 21, 2019

The farmers’ agitation over higher sugarcane prices in Kolhapur district took a violent turn on Thursday with reports of sugarcane-hauling tractors being set on fire and tyres being punctured on the highway, to block traffic.

Local police have confirmed that in the last 24 hours a number of such incidents have been reported in Shirol and Hatkanangale talukas of Kolhapur district. There have also been some disturbances in the neighbouring Sangli district.

Kolhapur and Sangli are the sugar bowls of Maharashtra.

The violent incidents come at a time when the Sugar Commissioner of Maharashtra has given permission to 162 sugar mills to operate in the State from Friday.

Since both the talukas are in the vicinity of border districts with Karnataka, a number of farmers want to sell their sugarcane to mills in the neighbouring State, as the prices there are better. However, they are allegedly being prevented from doing so by other farmer groups.

The farmers’ political outfit, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana (SSS), is said to be at the forefront of this agitation. The SSS has ensured that the mills don’t operate. The outfit, led by farm leader Raju Shetti, has been demanding higher compensation per tonne from the sugar mills. Shetti wants a higher bonus from the mills, which would be over and above the Fair and Remunerative Price of ₹2,750 per tonne, fixed by the Centre in July. SSS is demanding ₹200 per tonne as a bonus.

A senior official in the Sugar Commissioner’s office alleged that Shetti’s protests have become an annual feature in the Kolhapur and Sangli belt. The SSS demand for uniform bonus from all the mills is not viable, he said, noting that each mill has different financial health, production capacity and liabilities.

In spite of repeated efforts, Shetti was not available for comments.

A lot will depend on Saturday’s Oosh Parishad (Sugarcane Conference) of the farmers, which is an annual meet of the sugarcane growing farmers in Maharashtra.

At the Oosh Parishad, which would be held near Kolhapur, it would be clear if SSS takes a confrontational stand or is willing to negotiate, the official said.

In the current sugar season, the mills are carrying up to 12 months of unsold inventory, plus their balance sheets are also weak therefore they may not negotiate with SSS and other farmers’ groups, the official added.

For the sugar season 2018-19, sugarcane was planted on about 11.62 lakh hectares and 952.11 lakh metric tonnes of sugarcane was crushed. The average sugar recovery was 11.26 per cent, while sugar production was 107.21 lakh metric tonnes. Across the State, 195 sugar mills were active.

Published on November 21, 2019

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