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HindustanTimes Thu,25 Dec 2014

Sugar mill in a jam

Raghbir Singh Brar, Hindustan Times  Faridkot, November 19, 2012
First Published: 23:19 IST(19/11/2012) | Last Updated: 23:24 IST(19/11/2012)

The fate of the local sugar mill is, to a great extent, uncertain. Built in the year 1988-89 and now one of the 15 in the co-operative sector in the state, it is closed since 2004, under liabilities of Rs. 30 crore.

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Because of delayed payment and other harassment, local farmers had stopped growing sugarcane years ago and moved on to paddy, forcing the mill to shut down. There is a proposal to hand over the mill to the Punjab Urban Planning and Development Authority (PUDA), and the inside sources have said the government is almost ready to do it to be able to sell the land further.

Well past the revival deadline
The information on the official website of Sugrafed Punjab suggests that on February 23, 2010, the state council of ministers decided to revive five closed sugar mills, including the Faridkot unit, by 2011. That time has come and gone.

Covering 135 acres close to the city, it's a prime location along the highway to Kotkapura. If PUDA gets this land for urbanisation, it will bring huge revenue to the state. Of course, it will fail the government's strategy for crop diversification.

The selling of the mill that is out of operation since the crushing season 2004-05 will for ever end any hope of reviving sugarcane farming in the district. Of Faridkot's 1.46 lakh hectares, 99,000 hectares is under paddy, 18,000 hectares under cotton, and about 6,000 hectares under Basmati rice.

Was a sweet option killed by bad price
Sugarcane was also a very good option for farmers with big land holding, had the government encouraged it sincerely. Corruption, officials' lack of interest, and faulty policies discouraged the growers. "A decade ago, I grew sugarcane on 30 acres. It gave me a better income than paddy and wheat and required less input cost," said Harpal Singh Brar, former sarpanch of Bir Sikhan Wala village. "The crop could survive all weather conditions such as fast wind and hailstorm that destroyed other crop. Only delayed payment compelled us to shift from it."

"When the mill was in operation, 2,500 acres in Faridkot was under sugarcane cultivation but now less than 200 acres is," said Kaur Singh Dhillon, chief agriculture officer (CAO) of the district.

Sugarcane very much the new hope: official
Dr Ranjit Singh, cane commissioner of Punjab, disagreed with the view that there was any threat to sugarcane plantation in the state. "The state government is making all efforts to encourage diversification and sugarcane is a viable option to replace paddy and wheat," he said.

"Earlier, because of the comparative increase in the prices of paddy and wheat, farmers moved away from sugarcane. In the past three years, they have come back and the crop area in the state has shot up from 60,000 hectares in the year 2009-10 to almost 90,000 hectares in the year 2011-12. Last year, the minimum agreed price of sugarcane was Rs. 230 a quintal.

'Transfer, not sell-off on Sugarfed's mind'
Sukhbir Singh Wahla, chairman of Sugarfed Punjab, denied any plan of selling off the mill. "The Faridkot co-operative unit is not going to be sold," he said categorically. "We'll give it to a private contractor for 15 years and motivate farmers to bring more area under sugarcane in the interest of crop diversification."

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