With striking workers and deserting cane growers, the mill is struggling to stay afloat

The Puducherry Cooperative Sugar Mill Limited, the first and only cooperative sugar mill in the Union Territory, is facing tough times with the workers serving strike notice against the management. And the cane growers, who are yet to be paid their cane price for many months, have started supplying cane to private mills.

To top them all, the management of the mill, with an accumulated loss of over Rs. 150 crore, is yet to pay August month's salary to its workers, said sources in the mill. This, besides, being improperly paid for several months.

Protesting against delayed salary, the workers had served strike notice, demanding the intervention of the Labour Department to solve their grievances.

On the supply side, the total pending dues of the mill to the cane growers stood at Rs. 11 crore, sources said. As they were not paid for many months now, the aggrieved growers, who were supposed to supply the cane to the registered mill, have started sending their produce to two private mills situated nearby, causing an erosion of growers’ base for the cooperative sugar mill.

According to recent estimates, over 50 per cent of the registered growers had already switched loyalty to the private mills, who had lured them by offering advance money. Since they were sure of getting cane price within a few days of supply, more and more growers are turning towards the private mills, sources said.

If the problem was not solved within a week, the management would find it extremely difficult to get back the confidence of growers resulting in a situation wherein the mill would lose its assured supply of sugar cane, they add.

Moreover, the drastic reduction in government grants from Rs. 19 crore from last year to Rs. 7 crore this year has raised apprehension among the workers, who were dependent on the government for their salary.

Admitting that the sugar mill was facing difficulties, M. Rajasekar, Managing Director of the mill, told The Hindu that steps were being taken to get the government grant as soon as possible. The mill required at least Rs. 1.25 crore per month for meeting out the salary component of workers alone. It would take sincere steps to Rs. 11 crore due to the cane growers as well, he said. Agricultural Department has been approached to bail out the mill temporarily, he added.

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