Banking on cane for revival, farm leader Raju Shetti marches to Sugar Commissioner’s office

Former MP and farmers’ leader Raju Shetti led a massive rally on Monday to the Sugar Commissioner’s office to press for the demands of cane growers. The former MP hopes the rally, which saw roughly over 3,000 participants, will be a signal for the revival of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana and will help him regain lost political ground.

The politics of cane has catapulted him as an important farm leader and made his Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna a force to reckon with. The farm leader won the Hatkangale Lok Sabha seat twice. However, Shetti failed to retain his seat in 2019, losing it to much younger Dhairyasheel Mane.

Desertion by senior leaders had seen the Sanghtana weaken even as Shetti managed to make his presence felt in the national farm politics.

With Shetti and his organisation facing a crisis of relevance, the farmer leader has fallen back on cane to revive his organisation. Monday’s march was one such attempt that saw people from various parts of the state participate in the rally.

The demands of the rally included one-time payment of the government-declared Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP), online monitoring of weighing machines and other demands related to the cane growers.

Shetti’s first demand was in reference to the erstwhile Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government’s decision to allow the payment of FRP in two or three installments. FRP, as per the law, is linked with sugar recovery or the percentage of sugar produced versus the cane crushed. Previously, mills paid FRP in one go but the MVA government had allowed the payment of FRP in two installments — the first payment was to be calculated as per 10 per cent recovery while the final recovery and payment was supposed to be made within 15 days of the end of cane-crushing season of the mill. Shetti and his organisation had strongly opposed this and asked for one-time payment of the FRP.

In the cane belt of Sangli and Kolhapur, mills have actually announced one-time payment of FRP while other mills had proceeded with two installments of FRP. Till date, 20 mills have had to clear Rs 150 crore as FRP payments. Sugar Commissioner Shekhar Gaikwad has taken action against 10 mills for non-clearance of FRP.

While the demands of cane growers might not be new, Shetti going back on them is a signal of his faith in them for his revival. When asked about this, he said while he raises his voice for all crops, he gets the maximum response for cane. The rally, which saw a good response, also proved his relevance to the growers. What remains to be seen is if it translates into political support for the Sanghtana and its founder Shetti.

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