Sugarcane growers in Punjab are not a happy lot. After the state government fixed the state advised price (SAP) for sugarcane at Rs 300 per quintal, which is Rs 26 less than what the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, had recommended, the farmers allege the prices are being controlled by mill owners.
The SAP hike as compared to last year is mere Rs 5 per quintal. In comparison to Rs 295 per quintal offered by the Punjab government last year, the neighbouring state of Haryana had offered Rs 311 to its cane growers.
Farmers blame the lobby of sugar mill owners for the poor remuneration. “Why is the government not fixing prices on a par with Haryana, when the input cost, weather and varieties grown in Haryana are the same as in Punjab?” questioned Balbir Singh Rajewal, president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU).
“The mill owners, who are part of the government, don’t want farmers to earn anything and want to keep their profits intact... By depriving sugarcane growers of additional Rs 10 per quintal, the government has caused them a loss of Rs 67 crore,” he said.
“I used to grow sugarcane over 40 acre ithin a few years, the area reduced to just one acre, because prices are not in proportion to the input cost .” Sukhwinder Singh Dhillon, farmer, Bhattian, Ludhiana
Jarnail Singh Wahid, who is the managing director of Markfed since 2008 and is contesting the forthcoming polls from Nawanshahr, is part of the SAP fixation committee. He also happens to own a sugarcane mill in Phagwara. “How can we expect good returns for our produce, when mill owners play a key role in deciding the prices?” questioned a farmer, requesting anonymity.
A member of the SAP fixation committee, on the condition of anonymity, said Wahid exerted pressure on other members to support him on a “reasonable” hike in the SAP.
Giving justification for the decision, Wahid, who is also the Punjab sugar mill owners’ association president, told HT that privately owned sugar mill suffered a loss of Rs 200 crore to Rs 300 crore each last season.
“We want to recover our losses and stay in the business. In case our mills shut down, who will process the sugarcane produced by the farmers?” Jarnail Singh Wahid, SAP fixation panel member, Akali leader and mill owner
“We want to recover our losses and stay in the business. In case our mills shut down, who will process the sugarcane produced by the farmers? They (farmers) should understand this. An SAP in excess of ₹300 per quintal was not feasible,” he said in a reply to the HT’s query, while he was campaigning in Nawanshahr.
Kamal Oswal, who owns a sugar mill in Amloh and is an adviser to the Punjab chief minister, is also being targeted by farmers for “not letting a hike in the SAP”. Oswal and Punjab agriculture minister Tota Singh, who heads the sugarcane SAP fixation committee, were not available for comments.
Out of 16 sugar mills in Punjab, nine are in cooperative sector, while seven are privately owned. Seven other mills have already shut down in the state. Last year, the government supported private mills by paying Rs 223 crore to farmers from the state exchequer.
“I will also like to see more remuneration for the farmers. Even the ₹5 hike in the SAP was done after much persuasion,” agriculture director JS Bains told HT. Bains said the SAP fixation committee members also took the plea that the fair remunerative price (FRP) fixed by the Centre was Rs 230 per quintal, much less than the SAP.
The total sugarcane production in the state is expected to touch 68 lakh tonne this season. A decade ago, sugarcane was grown over 7 lakh hectare. Much to the dismay of experts, the area has shrunk to 1 lakh hectare, taking a toll on diversification.