Units worth several hundred crore each given away at throwaway prices, claims activist

Anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare has threatened a jail bharo andolan if the Maharashtra government does not set up a judicial commission to probe the auction and sale of cooperative sugar factories at bargain prices. Mr. Hazare alleged that 40 sugar factories had been sold at prices ranging between Rs. 14 crore and Rs. 50 crore even though each factory was worth several hundred crore. He alleged that the State lost money worth at least Rs. 8,000 crore as a result.

Mr. Hazare was speaking at a rally at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan attended by farmers groups from the State’s sugar belt. Maharashtra has a long tradition of cooperative sugar factories, most of which are controlled by politicians from the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Several Chief Ministers of the State have been sugar barons.

A large number of the sugar mills sold in recent years have been bought by companies controlled by politicians. “Maharashtra’s cooperative sugar factories are controlled by politicians, the cooperative banks that sell the mills are controlled by the same politicians. The mills are then bought by the same politicians. It is a nexus,” said farmer leader Raju Shetty of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana, speaking at the rally.

He gave the example of the Tasgaon cooperative factory once controlled by State Home Minister R.R. Patil. The mill was sold for Rs. 14.5 crore.