TAMIL NADU

Sore sugarcane growers look up to CM

NAMAKKAL, OCT. 7. With the sugarcane crushing season for the current year about to begin on October 9 at the Salem Cooperative Sugar Mills, Mohanur, the cane growers are sore that the mill has not come out with its purchase price. They seek the intervention of the Chief Minister to ensure that the growers get a fair deal, considering the hike in production cost due to drought-like conditions that prevailed in the region.

Low SMP anticipated

The cane growers are afraid that the Statutory Minimum Price (SMP) to be announced by the Centre might be lesser than last year's despite factors such as the Maharashtra Assembly elections and cane growers' lobby in the North.

Their fears are not misplaced as the Centre, through an order in September, had in effect hiked the recovery base from 8.5 per cent to 9 per cent. This has been caused by the altered basis for fixing the cane price from the peak recovery period (between December and March) to the whole season's average.

Mill too in trouble

Cane growers also complain that while the last year's purchase price was Rs. 923 a tonne, the mill had paid the supplier-farmers only Rs. 883 and the balance has so far not been paid to the growers. They demand that the mill pay the balance due to them immediately.

The mill itself is facing a dilemma as it is not getting enough cane to crush, and is under financial trouble. Even with the Rs. 923 a tonne it offers, a vast section of the growers still would prefer the private buyers who purchase cane for making jaggery. In the open market, the jaggery manufacturers are purchasing cane at even Rs. 1,400 a tonne.

Also, sources say that of the over 8,000 acres in the command area of the Mohanur mill, farmers owning only around 1,800 acres have registered themselves with the mill for sale of cane.

With an alternative in the form of jaggery merchants with lucrative offers before them, with the awareness that their agreement with the Mohanur mill is `one-sided' favouring the mill (what with penal provisions in case of breach of contract on the part of the growers) and with the mill `faltering in agreed payment' for the last year, less and less growers are forthcoming to supply cane to the Mohanur mill.

"We want remunerative price for sugarcane as we have been forced to spend more for irrigation this season due to drought. Since the mill sustained us earlier, we would very much like the mill to see through the crisis by selling it cane not at the market price but at a fair price," say the farmers.