The 21-day nation-wide lockdown has hit the sugar industry adversely in Maharashtra with an inordinate delay in the harvesting of almost 10 lakh metric tonnes of sugarcane. This has jeopardised the production of more than one lakh metric tonnes of sugar, state sugar commissioner Saurabh Rao said.
According to the commissionerate, Maharashtra has a total of 173 sugar factories with the annual crushing of 518 lakh metric tonnes of cane and sugar production of 8 lakh tonnes.
At village Avasari Budruk, cane farmers from Manchar in Pune have been unable to send their harvest to the Bhimashankar Co-operative sugar factory due to the absence of farm labour.
Farmer Baban Hinge said in a telephonic interview, "Our sugarcane usually goes to factory in 14 or 15 months, but this time, the crop has not been harvested even after almost 16 months. The factory said they are unable to send to send farm labour for harvesting."
Another farmer, Sambhaji Hinge said the delay in harvesting would adversely affect the sugar recovery by almost 30 to 40 percent. "This is a direct loss to us," he said, adding that the crop had begun to deteriorate.
Ambegaon (Pune district)-based , Bhimashankar Co-operative sugar factory's chairman Balasaheb Bende said, "Almost 35,000 metric tonnes of sugarcane was waiting to be cut. We have announced incentives to the labourers to cut the sugarcane under this panic situation. A section of the labourers went home just before the lockdown was announced."
Maharashtra Sugar Commissioner Saurabh Rao said that 10 lakh metric tonnes sugarcane was standing in the fields and 18 sugar factories were yet to complete their cane crushing operations for the season. "We are putting in all efforts to ensure that this sugarcane would get cut as soon as possible and sent to the sugar factories."
He said that a sizeable section of the cane harvesting labour fled to their villages due to the panic caused by the Covid-19 pandemic affecting cane harvesting. In view of the lockdown, factories have been advised not to allow labourers to leave their locations and make the necessary arrangements for food and shelter.
"If this 10 lakh metric tonnes of sugarcane is crushed, more 1 lakh metric tonnes sugar would be produced," he said.
Action against sugar factories for not taking care of farm labour
Maharashtra sugar commissioner Saurabh Rao said that all sugar factories in the state have been asked to take care of the cane harvesting labour and not allow them to return to their villages during the lockdown period.
"Only 18 factories are working as of now. The labourers are trying to return to their homes but the police and local authorities are requesting them to stay at the factory where they would be provided with food and shelter.
Rao said that police complaints are in the process of being filed against two factories in Karad and Kolhapur for allowing their labour to return home and not making arrangements for their extended stay during the lockdown period.
"The labourers themselves want to leave as they feel that home is safer," he said.
Bhimashankar Co-operative sugar factory's chairman Balasabheb Bende said that although they have made all the necessary arrangements for their labour, "we are helpless if they try and run away at night."