Maharashtra's sugar mills: not a sweet deal

Pune:  Most parts of Maharashtra face drought almost every year. At times it is due to natural reasons, many a times, it is man-made. 2013 has been dubbed as a man-made drought, simply because of wrong policies and rampant corruption in the water business of the state.

The government, run by the NCP and the Congress, has spent the highest in the country on irrigation projects on irrigation projects - about Rs 70,000 crore in the last four decades. But the state's irrigation percentage is still the lowest in the country.  

Earlier this year, when the NCP chief and the union Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar, and Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, claimed that drought this year would be the worst-ever, much serious than even the drought of 1972, many thought that the government would come out with some solution to tide over this annual problem the state faces. Experts opined that the state should seriously dwell on the cropping pattern and should discourage the farmers from cultivating sugarcane crops which takes away six times more water than any other crop. Even government officials admitted that the areas under sugarcane cultivation should be brought down.

But showing its apathy yet again, the government has not only turned a blind eye to this sector - presumably because of political obligations. Many of the state's sugar factories are under the control of politicians running across parties but majority of them are from the NCP and the Congress.

Now the government has done exactly the opposite - granting permissions to 60-odd sugar factories, many of them in the worst drought prone areas of Marathwada and western Maharashtra. Solapur, which has the highest number of 28 sugar factories in the district, will have 20 additional new sugar factories. And that includes four more factories in Sharad Pawar's constituency Madha. Besides, almost 30 new factories would come up in the parched region of Marathwad, including Osmanabad, Beed and Aurangabad.

"There is just no justification for these, once there is a sugar factory not only does it need water but it corners all the available water resources to itself leaving other people in complete distress," said Parineeta Dandekar, Convenor of South Asia Network on dams, rivers and people, an NGO.

And what is more concerning in the state which once boasted of cooperative movement having the highest number of cooperative sugar factories in the country, licences to the new factories are being given to politicians from different parties.

Shetkari Sanghatana leader Sharad Joshi analyses this trend as an easy route to being a politician where he just contributes 10 per cent of the capital and takes 90 per cent from the farmers and becomes their leader.

Ironic for a state that just doesn't seem keen to let go this business of drought that fetches them a good central aid year after year. Perhaps that could be the reason why drought is just too good for Maharashtra.

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