But in Maharashtra’s sugar bowl, farmers welcome change | india | Hindustan Times
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But in Maharashtra’s sugar bowl, farmers welcome change

While Raigad held its referendum, it’s a different story in other regions where SEZs are coming up. Here, farmers are ushering in a new beginning and are happy to do so.

india Updated: Sep 21, 2008 23:55 IST
Ketaki Ghoge

While Raigad held its referendum, it’s a different story in other regions where SEZs are coming up. Here, farmers are ushering in a new beginning and are happy to do so.

Dattatrey Sakhore, a sugarcane farmer from Kendur, 50 km from Pune, makes for an unlikely millionaire with his soiled kurta and Gandhi topi. Last month, he earned this title after he was handed Rs 2 crore for parting with 18 acres of his sugarcane fields to Pune autocomponents major Bharat Forge.

Sakhore’s Kendur village — which got Rs 50 crore in compensation for acquisition — is among 17 others where lush fields will give way to a multi-product SEZ spread across 7,192 hectares. It is just one of the 131 other trade zones cleared for Maharashtra, the maximum for any state in the country.

Unlike his counterparts in Raigad, Sakhore gave up his land willingly in the face of “inevitable” industrialisation.

Across Pune district, part of the sugar bowl of the country, thousands like Sakhore are fumbling their way through new careers as small-time contractors, grocers, drivers and even land brokers after having lost their lands to new age economy. In the last five years, the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation has notified 20,000 hectares of land for industrial purposes. That’s a little more than the size of Mumbai. Most of it is cultivable land. Besides this, eight SEZs are in the offing here.

The land now being considered prime realty has one of the widest crop variations in the state because Pune falls under four out of the seven agriculture climate zones. Farmers here, unlike counterparts in Marathwada and Vidarbha, have been relatively well off and innovative with many growing an annual cash crop of sugarcane along with wheat, paddy, jowar or alternately groundnut and vegetables. Pune also has five irrigation projects, a share of nearly 37 per cent of the state's irrigation development funds.

So now experts are raising an alarm over what is happening in one of the most fertile belts in India. They point out that this trend of losing cultivable land could lead to serious questions over food security. “This will begin a whole new and worrying chapter,” said Ajay Dandekar, professor with the Institute of Rural Management.

The state agriculture department is unwilling to concede this loss of cultivable land will lead to trouble. The loss, it says, is good for farmers.