Millennium Post

Sugar bailout package worth only Rs 4k cr, take more measures: Pawar to PM

Mumbai: Stating that the bailout package announced for the sugar industry recently was worth only Rs 4,047 crore and not Rs 8,500 crore, NCP chief and former agricutlure minister Sharad Pawar has shot off a letter to the prime minister seeking urgent steps to help cash-starved mills to clear part of over Rs 22,000 crore dues to cane farmers.

Pawar sought increase in the ex-mill price of the sweetener from Rs 29 per kg, an export policy to ship 80 lakh tonnes sugar by doubling production-linked subsidy to Rs 11 per quintal, hike in ethanol price to Rs 53 per litre and restructuring of outstanding past loans with moratorium of three years.

On June 6, the Centre had announced a Rs 8,500 crore package including creating a buffer stock for sugar, enhancing ethanol production capacity and fixing a minimum selling price to cut mill losses. The package also includes Rs 1,540 crore production linked subsidy for cane growers announced last month.

Sugar mills are incurring losses as prices have fallen below production cost on account of record output of 31.5 million tonnes in the 2017-18 season ending September as against the annual domestic demand of 25 million tonnes.

"The bailout package initially published to be Rs 8,500 crore and subsequently mentioned as Rs 7,000 crore... has created confusion and ambiguity," Pawar said in the letter written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

If one goes by the net financial outgo on each of the decisions, the scheme for assistance to sugar mills by way of incentive on sugarcane is Rs 1,540 crore, creation of buffer stock of 30 lakh tonnes is Rs 1,175 crore and interest subvention on augmenting ethanol capacity is Rs 1,332 crore -- making the total Rs 4,047 crore, he said.

"Thus, the net financial outgo from the exchequer of the government appears to be Rs 4,047 crore and therefore, to say that the bailout package is of the magnitude of Rs 8,500 crore or Rs 7,000 crore seems to be incorrect," he noted.

Pointing out that providing interest subsidy on bank loans for ethanol capacity expansion will not address immediate problem of surplus sugar, Pawar said: "The right step will be to increase the ethanol price to at least Rs 53 per litre at distillery gate."

In the light of increased international crude oil prices and with the help of reducing current GST of 18 per cent on ethanol, the clubbed accruals could be loaded on the current basic price of ethanol of Rs 40.85 per litre, he added.

He also said that fixation of ex-mill price of sugar at Rs 29 per kg was lower than the cost of production which is in the range of Rs 34-36 per kg.

"There is a need for two different levels of minimum sugar price by keeping difference of Rs 2 per kg for level playing field taking into account that the northern sugar mills predominantly produce superior quality M-grade and rest of the country produce S-grade," he said.

With regard to sugar buffer stock, Pawar said it was "not practical" to credit on a quarterly basis the reimbursement into farmers' account. "It is logical that the reimbursement should be made directly to the sugar mills who would make use of it for releasing cane payment to the farmers on time and in full," he said.

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