A look at Bihar's crippled yet thriving Sugar Industry

 

For all those who have revelled in stories about Bihar's rapid journey into industrial oblivion would know that the decline of Sugar Mills in the state is the flagbearer of all those stories.

The state of Bihar which once contributed to 40% of India's sugar production(during 1980s) is now down to contributing just around 4% of it. Most of the sugar mills in the state were established during the British regime due to the soil and climatic conditions, specially of North Bihar being suitable for the sugar based industries. Post independence only 1 other mill was opened during 1970-71 in Banmankhi, Purnia.

There were 33 sugar mills in Bihar before Independence. This number according to the Sugarcane Development Department of Bihar has now reduced to 28, of which only 11 are operational and the rest 17 have been closed. Ten of the total functional mills are run by private managements. This means that 67% of the state's sugar mills were either completely shut down or are non-functional.

The deplorable condition of these mills as well as the farmers and workers who were dependent on these for their bread and butter is cited as an example of the Bihar's de-industrialization.

In his recent interview to OpIndia, Bihar's former Minister of Department of Sugarcane Development, Nitish Mishra, said that during his tenure from 2005-08, many attempts were made to revive the industry which included:-

  • Revival of the Sugauli and Lauriya sugar mills.
  • Payment of around 8 crore pending amount to the farmers and workers.
  • Also attempts were made to lure private investment in the sector, with plans to give the mills on lease for 60 years. Though he said that they failed to get any investment due to the sugar industry going through a recession in the country at that point of time. The main reason behind this disinterest from the investors however could have been the "Cane Control Order" by then Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, that prohibited independent production of "ethanol"(which was lucrative to the private players) at sugar mills in the country.
However this dark cloud of the is not without a silver lining. "With only 11 operational mills, the daily sugarcane crushing capacity has increased to over 81.50 lakh tonne in 2019-20. It is much higher than the days when all 28 mills were functioning. The sugar production in 2019-20 also witnessed a satisfactory growth of 8.56 lakh tonne. The sugarcane production in the state has witnessed a tremendous rise of 221 lakh metric tonne in 2019-20 from 183 lakh tonne in the previous year", said a source from Sugarcane Industries Department of Bihar.

There is no doubt that Bihar's sugar industry promises to be full of opportunities and fortune for factory workers, the sugarcane farmers as well as other direct and indirect employments that would be generated. People of Bihar have been waiting for re-industrialization in the state for far too long. The full-scale revival of this tried and tested Sugar Industry would definitely go a long way in solving the issue of unemployment and migration from the state. 

Almost all political parties have been promising to solve this problem before every election but nothing substantial has ever been done to this end. Hopefully post the 2020 Vidhan Sabha elections, the government would show a stronger will to listen to this issue of the citizens and this time solve it for good.


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