The lockdown has not stalled Uttar Pradesh's sugarcane crushing industry.
According to a statement issued by Sanjay R. Bhoosreddy, the Secretary for Sugar Industries and Cane Development, the state government runs 119 sugar mills in the state, which have thus far crushed 11,015.07 lakh quintals of sugarcane—a figure that is much higher than that of Maharashtra.
Announcing this to the media on Friday, Bhoosreddy, said that despite the adverse circumstances created by COVID-19, the state had crushed 771.827 lakh quintals more than the last season.
For sugarcane crushing, the state uses seasonal labourers from October to November. This means that despite the start of the lockdown on March 25, non-availability of labourers was not a problem.
“The weather was good, crop yields were high and thus this was bound to be a good season,” former MD of the Sugar Federation, C.P. Mishra told THE WEEK.
Mishra also says that higher production was made possible by the proactive role of Bhoosreddy. “He stood by the industries for clearances, transport preparations as well as procurement of gunny bags,” Mishra noted.
Sugarcane crushing at capacity does not necessarily mean the subsequent purchase of sugar. Some experts that THE WEEK spoke to suggested that off-take could suffer as much as 50 per cent. For farmers though, government support measures mean that they will not suffer losses.
As part of the government measures, mills were directed to give input on credit and to adjust their value from the last purchi/purchies (supply slips that mandate how much a farmer can supply) of sugarcane supplied by farmers. In addition, farmers of the state were regularly alerted through print media and social media about control measures of locust outbreak, fall armyworm and pyrilla.
A note issued by the sugarcane department on Friday said that in spite of all the adverse conditions, the department decided to run all the sugar mills to safeguard the interest of sugarcane farmers during the lockdown period. "Social distancing was followed meticulously and proper arrangement of soaps and sanitisers was made," said Bhoosreddy.
Distribution of pamphlets and use of social media was undertaken extensively to keep mills functional.
Of the total 119 sugar mills operating in the current crushing season, 94 have closed their operations after crushing all available sugarcane, while 25 continue to function.
Despite negligible sugar sale during the lockdown, farmers have been paid Rs. 5,543.07 crore as cane price.
Spring sowing of sugarcane is mainly done during month of February till end of April. For this, orders were issued to ensure availability of agricultural inputs like pesticides and fertilisers in all the private sugar mills. For these inputs, interest-free loans were to be given to willing farmers to be adjusted from last purchi/purchies of cane supplied to them. This ensured that spring sowing of cane remained unaffected for want of funds. Sugar mills were also directed to make available one quintal of sugar per month till June 2020 to the willing farmers on minimum sale price of the day and to adjust the value of sugar from the last purchie/purchies of cane given by them. This enabled the farmer to get cheap sugar and also helped the sugar mills in liquidating the cane price dues.
As part of this, 70,793 farmers took 74,865 quintals of sugar from the mills.
Sugar mills have also been addressing increased demands for sanitisers. As many as 27 sugar mills in the state have been producing more than 2 lakh litres of sanitiser per day during lockdown. These are supplied within the state and also to almost all states across India.