Maharashtra sugar mills to set up Covid care centres for workers
Maharashtra’s sugar mills will set up Covid-19 care centres for sugarcane cutters ahead of the sugar season of 2020-21, slated to commence next month. The effort comes in the wake of an appeal by Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar that mill owners must come forward to set up small facilities in their mills in cooperation with the district administration for the welfare of workers. Every season, around 6-10 lakh workers participate in the crushing operations during the cane season, which continues for over 120 days. Maharashtra has over 14 lakh workers, many of whom travel to other states, including neighbouring Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and even Tamil Nadu in search of work.
Confirming the development, Maharashtra sugar commissioner Shekhar Gaikwad said state cooperative minister Balasaheb Patil was expected to make an appeal to sugar mills to set up Covid care centres on their premises. This is not mandatory, but mills are expected to make efforts voluntarily in this regard, he said.
So far, Vignahar Sugar mill in Junnar taluka of Pune district has already set up one such centre. Three mills in Kolhapur have shown willingness to start such facilities in their mills but are yet to start working on it, Gaikwad said.
Sangli-based Vasantdada sugar mill has also submitted a proposal to start a Covid care centre. Several mills in the Solapur region are also expected to set up such facilities. The mills are expected to set up 20-25-bed care units, which could be run by the local district administration, he said. According to sources at least 17-10 such care centres are expected to come up in cane growing regions.
This initiative is also expected to draw workers amid a growing concern among mill owners that workers may not turn up due to the fear of the pandemic. Shrirang Bhange, president, Maharashtra Rajya Ustod ani Vahtuk Kamgar Sanghatana, pointed out that unfortunately workers had no option but to come for work. Contractors associated with factories have already begun the process of hiring cane cutters, he said. Each cane cutter usually earns around Rs289 for each tonne of cane cuts.
The move by the sugar lobby to start the care centres is a concerted effort to assure cutters that mills will take care and responsibility to treat them in case they are infected. Maharashtra is expecting a bumper sugar production season with a record 190 sugar mills ready to start operations for the upcoming season.
According to the estimates of the Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation, the state’s sugar production figures are likely to be around 92 to 100 lakh tonne. Estimates by the sugar commissioner’s office show that 825 lakh tonne of cane will be available for crushing, and by taking the previous season’s average recovery of 11.3 % into account, sugar production is slated to be around 93.22 lakh tonne.