Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal on Thursday asked officials of the agriculture directorate to work out possibilities to increase area under sugarcane cultivation, in a bid to make the sugar mills viable and also to get the farmers out of the wheat-paddy cycle, it is learnt.
Officials of the directorate said cane area needs to be doubled to 1.8 lakh hectares to make all 16 sugar mills — nine in the cooperative sector and seven in the private sector — viable again. In the current season, 94,000 hectares are under cane, and the target is to increase it to 1.08 lakh hectares. “We need at least 900 lakh quintals of sugarcane every year to run each mill for 180 days,” said agriculture director JS Bains.
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The meeting is being seen as an effort to divert farmers from the wheat-paddy cycle particularly after last week’s rap by the Niti Aayog, the country’s top think tank, that the state should care for its peasantry by looking beyond the country’s food needs alone. That rap came after the state sought a relief package saying that farmers were under stress in their effort to meet the country’s food needs.
The directorate also asked the minister to make pending payments of Rs 45 crore to farmer for the previous year. “Timely payments will encourage farmers to shift to sugarcane,” said Bains, adding that, this year, of the total cane costing Rs 1,634 crore that arrived in the mills, payment of Rs 1,078 crore has already been made. Cane crushing for the current season began in November.
The directorate was also asked to take the per-acre production to 400 quintals against the existing 320. The officials suggested to increase the state advised price (SAP) from the existing Rs 310 per quintal, and bring it on a par with what Haryana government offers (Rs 330).