Disagreements over procurement prices between sugarcane growers and sugar co-operative factories reached a flashpoint on Friday, when activists of the Shetkari Sanghatana in Latur beat up top guns of two mills directly controlled by Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.
Members of the board of directors of Manjra and Vikas sugar co-operative factories directors were allegedly with the help of police guards coercing farmers to part with their crops. The farmers responded with stone pelting. The directors, including Manjra vice-chairman Vijaymurthi Shette and managing director Ashok Gurwalkar, sustained severe injuries.
Both the factories, Manjra and Vikas, located in richly irrigated areas along the Manjra river, spreading across 65 villages, sit upon some of Maharashtra's most quality sugarcane. While the CMs brother and MLC, Dilip Deshmukh, is the chairman of the Manjra, sugar factory, his son, Amit, chairs the board of directors of the Vikas sugar co-operative factory.
Late last night the Murud police (in Latur) arrested six persons under section 143, 147, 148 (unlawful assembly, rioting) in connection with the incident, additional superintendent of police, Vinayak Deshmukh, told Hindustan Times.
Unfazed by the stringent police action Sanghtana activists have stepped up their agitation for better prices and blocked vehicles in and around Latur and the neighbouring Osmanabad district.
In the highly tense Latur district, however, heavy showers last night has made it nearly impossible for trucks and bullock carts to penetrate into the sugar fields to harvest the crop, giving the chief minister some time to negotiate with Shetkari Sanghtana leaders.
A bumper sugar crop in the state and a multicrore restructuring package offered by NABARD, has put life into sugar co-operatives all over the state who have now spread out their representatives in every nook and corner of the state looking for the raw crop.
Manjra and Vilkas, together have a capacity for over 52 lakh tonne of sugar, while the 28000 hectares of sugar fields adjoining them have churned out just about 45 lakh tonne of sugar, so that the two may have to go up all the way up to Aurangabad and Parbhani to ensure optimum utilisation of their plants.
But Sanghatana leaders have refused to accept the previous years' price of Rs 1150 per tone offered by factories (in Latur), saying anything below Rs 1800 per tonne was unacceptable.
Senior Sanghatana leader, Amar Habib, talking to Hindustan Times, said Maharashtra had never witnessed a scene that was enacted in villages Tandulja and Gadwad, on Friday in Latur where armed police escorting the directors knocked the doors of sugar cane growers to loot their crop. "We have directed all our activists to fight such highhandedness tooth and nail," he said adding that no one would be allowed to put the sickle to the cane in the fields, unless and until the factories declare their prices for the season.