Pandurang Shinde is from Kopargaon Teshil of Ahmednagar district. He owns 7 acres of land, and mainly cultivates sugarcane. This year, the fair and remunerative price (FRP) is Rs 2,200 per quintal for his area. But he has only received Rs 1800 per quintal, with dues of Rs 400 per quintal pending.
The dues were supposed to be cleared by March end. However, the sugar industry is undergoing a huge crisis right now, and therefore, farmers’ dues have piled up almost everywhere. Be it Uttar Pradesh or Karnataka or even Gujarat. Maharashtra farmers’ story is no different.
Maharashtra farmers are supposed to receive around Rs 15,600 crore as per the FRP rate this year. Sources say that about Rs 4700 crore of this amount has still not been paid. Even though the sugar mill owners are promising clearance of the dues, they are also asking for a minimum price of Rs 3,500 per quintal for sugar.
On February 14, the central government increased the minimum selling price of sugar from Rs 29 to Rs 31. Now, the millers are hoping to sell the sugar with this price, so that they would be able to pay the dues to the farmers.
Total 25 districts in Maharashtra are sugarcane-growing districts. These districts from Western Maharashtra, part of North Maharashtra and part of Marathwada from the sugar belt in the state. In this season, total 190 mills were producing sugar with Kolhapur and Sangali having the highest number of sugar mills. Total 35% of India's sugar production takes place in Maharashtra. This industry is state's strongest money and power lobby.
Also read: Is Maratha Reservation Issue Still Relevant on Ground?
Owing to the fall in the price of the sugar on the international level and uncertainty over sugar policy of the central government, this industry has been struggling in the last three years. It was the loss of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Kairana bypolls in Uttar Pradesh that forced the government to rethink its policy. A number of announcements for the farmers came afterwards. But the damage had already been done, which is, in a way, responsible for the current crisis.
Out of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state, the sugar belt comprises 18. The state government has been trying to clear the farmers’ arrears by putting pressure on the millers, and threatening them with action.
In Maharashtra, the cooperative sugar industry is still under the control of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress leaders. Majority of the millers still come from these two parties.
"To keep the consumer happy and especially the salaried class people, this government has crushed agriculture. Lower sugar rates is the government’s fault. It was in hands of the Centre to increase the minimum selling price of sugar," said Govind Mane of Madha, Solapur, who is a sugarcane farmer.
All these years, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leader Raju Shetti has taken take anti-Congress, anti-NCP stand, as he has been a farmer’ leader. Shetti was also in alliance with the BJP in 2014. But he broke away, and now has joined hands with the Congress and NCP.
"Shetti is a farmers’ leader. Congress and NCP control the mill lobby. Farmers are yet to receive the complete payment from mills. The real issue is the state and central government's policies. Farmers are well aware of that, and that is why Shetti could go with the Congress and the NCP. This politics is evident of the direction in which the wind is flowing in the sugar belt of Maharashtra," analyses Anant Dikshit, senior journalist and political analyst.
In 2014, out of these 18 Lok Sabha seats, 12 were won by the BJP-Sena alliance. Congress and NCP's entire tally of six (Congress 2, NCP 4) too came from this belt. But this time, the farmers and millers are joining hands against the state government.
"We voted for Modiji because of his assurance over increasing the price of sugar and clearance of the arrears. But in past four years, it has never happened. We will take the right decision now, and not like the earlier one," said Ashok Pawar, farmer from Mohol tehsil of Solapur district.
Also read: Elections 2019: Chai Pe Charcha of No Help, Farmers Feel Cheated