Urgent need to stop licences for new sugar factories: Nitin Gadkari

Shift focus to making ethanol from sugar cane, says Union Minister.

Updated - October 02, 2021 11:40 pm IST

Published - October 02, 2021 05:36 pm IST - Pune

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari.

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari.

Urging farmers in Maharashtra and other parts of the country to focus on producing ethanol from sugarcane juice instead of sugar, Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways and senior BJP leader Nitin Gadkari on Saturday said there was a pressing need to stop issuing fresh licenses to set up sugar factories in the State and elsewhere.

Mr. Gadkari was speaking during the inauguration of a slew of road projects in Ahmednagar district, where he shared the dais with Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar.

Loss-making enterprise

Expressing concern over the sugar surplus and the possible detrimental effects it could have on the rural economy, Mr. Gadkari said: “Sugar producing is a loss-making enterprise today. If the economic cycle goes in reverse gear, then farmers will not get any money for their produce, banks will crash and sugar factories will shut… No one [governments] buys sugar anymore. Hence, the focus should be converting sugarcane juice to ethanol. The government is ready to buy ethanol, which is a green fuel. In this way, all petrol vehicles will run on ethanol in the future and the farmer, too, will be able to make money.”

He said if farmers converted to producing ethanol, then the imports would greatly reduce from the ₹12 lakh crore to an estimated ₹5 lakh crore.

Mr. Gadkari said the country had produced 310 lakh tonnes of sugar as against its requirement of only 240 lakh tonnes.

“We ended up producing 70 lakh tonnes excess sugar…the scenario in the international market is no better. In Brazil, two months ago, the price was ₹22 a kg. We had managed to keep the price at ₹31 per kg…but farmers must realise that they will survive only as long as factories survive. Hence, when the Central government has already given permission for ethanol pumps, all sugar factories in Maharashtra must start an ethanol pump in their premises,” said the Union Minister.

Outlining the tremendous scope for farmers in western Maharashtra and across the country if they plunged into the ethanol manufacturing enterprise, Mr. Gadkari said that last year, only 465 crore litres of ethanol had been manufactured while the requirement was much, much more.

Implementation in Pune and Ahmednagar

“If we have to put 20% of ethanol in petrol, then the requirement is 1,650 crore litres. So, I urge all leaders in the State to impress upon farmers the need to switch quickly to ethanol manufacturing. I have already pressed for this implementation in sugar factories in Pune and Ahmednagar as a starter,” he said, urging Mr. Pawar and other leaders present on the dais to take the initiative in this regard.

Reiterating that he would make it mandatory for all vehicle manufacturers to make flex-fuel engines (that can run on more than one fuel) once he secured the Supreme Court’s approval, Mr. Gadkari warned that errant manufactures were liable to be penalised.

Crediting Mr. Pawar and leaders in western Maharashtra for engineering the State’s prosperity, Mr. Gadkari observed that the per capita income of Kolhapur district was the highest in the country as a result of its vibrant sugar and dairy industry.

“Likewise, Ahmednagar, hitherto drought-prone, grew in prosperity because some leaders successfully set-up sugar factories here. As a result, farmers in western Maharashtra became rich, their purchasing power increased and agriculture growth rate rose as well. So, in the coming years, the progress through sugar factories will be vital,” he remarked, urging sugar factories in this part to be in the vanguard of producing maximum ethanol.

Mr. Pawar agreed with Mr. Gadkari saying farmers would henceforth have to concentrate on producing ethanol and hydrogen gas from molasses besides sugar.

Both Mr. Pawar and his party colleague, Maharashtra Minister Hasan Mushrif, who were seated on either side of Mr. Gadkari, lavished praise on the BJP leader.

“Mr. Gadkari transcended politics while approving projects. He only looks at what the demand is and concerns himself with the completion of a project, regardless of which member of a party pitches for it. Therefore, people of all political parties are happy with him,” said the NCP chief.

Open university

Mr. Mushrif, who is Ahmednagar’s Guardian Minister, lauded the BJP leader by calling him “an open university” who took on, and successfully finished, awe-inspiring projects worth thousands of crores of rupees.

Recently, Mr. Gadkari’s party colleague Kirit Somaiya had accused Mr. Mushrif and his kin of being embroiled in a ₹127-crore money-laundering scandal and of irregularities to the tune of ₹100 crore in a cooperative sugar factory owned by the latter.

Conspicuous absence

A conspicuous absence on the dais was that of senior BJP leader from Ahmednagar, Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil. While his son, BJP MP Sujay Vikhe-Patil, was present, the elder Vikhe-Patil stayed away presumably owing to the bitter rivalry with Mr. Pawar.

During the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the rivalry between the two clans came to a head after Mr. Pawar reportedly refused the ticket for the Ahmednagar parliamentary constituency to Mr. Sujay Vikhe-Patil. At the time, Mr. Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil was still with the Congress, with whom he broke to join the BJP.

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