Ministerial panel recommends bail out package to the sugar industry including financial assistance to sugar cane farmers
An informal group of ministers, headed by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar recommended a number of incentives to cash-starved sugar mills including financial package to pay cane farmers.
Why the need for a financial package for sugar mills ?
Owing to an increase in prices of fuel and fertilizer, farmers are insisting that mills pay Rs.280- Rs.300 per quintal for sugarcane. But millers hold that they can afford to pay only Rs.225 per quintal.
At present, sugar industry is facing a financial crisis due to higher cost of production and decline in the prices of sugar. This has led to 3400 crore rupees cane arrears from 2012-13 during the marketing year that ended in September 2013. Thus, owing to liquidity crunch, the sugar mills demanded interest-free loans for working capital requirement, hike in import duty, export subsidies among others. This financial package will allow millers to pay money they owe to the farmers.
Recommendations of the Panel headed by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar:
To ensure timely payments to cane growers, the PM-constituted panel recommended loan recasting for mills as per the RBI norms, incentives for production for raw sugar of up to 4 million tonnes and setting up of buffer stock besides doubling ethanol-blending in petrol to 10%.
- The bailout includes 7200 crore rupees at 12 percent interest rate to sugar mills by the banks to pay off the arrears of the sugarcane growers.
- The 12% interest on the financial support on the loan will be paid by Government of India (GoI) and Sugar Development Fund (SDF). The GoI will pay 5% of the loan, while the 7% will be paid by the SDF. This makes the loan amount free of interest for the sugar mills.
- The mills will have to repay loans in 5 years, but can get a moratorium on repayment in the first two years.
- To increase import duty on sugar (but at present there is no hike in import duty).
- An inter-departmental panel will be set up to coordinate with oil marketing companies and sugar mills for ethanol blending.
Note:India is the second biggest sugar producer in the world after Brazil. Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh are the top sugar producing state of India.
The issue of sugarcane pricing is moving towards becoming a major crisis with farmers demanding a higher price for their produce and millers reluctant to give in to their demand. After the Centre asked the state governments to resolve the matter, the Uttar Pradesh government asked millers to begin crushing by December 4, 2013 or face action.
Normally, crushing starts in October-November, but this year the “cash-starved” millers have decided not to crush, arguing that they cannot pay farmers the State Advised Price of Rs. 280 a quintal on account of surplus stocks and decline in sugar prices.
Although the UP government filed FIRs against four millers and threatened to act against those who have not cleared arrears, it agreed to consider the demand for linking the State Advised Price of sugarcane with sugar prices and announced a high-powered committee, headed by the Chief Secretary, to come up with a permanent cane price formula from the next sugar season (2014-15).
What is the ongoing issue of sugar cane pricing?
Sugarcane cultivating farmers are demanding better prices for their cane produce as the its prices have been declining. The demands are from the farmers of a number of states of the country like UP, Maharashtra, Karnataka etc. In UP, the government has suggested the millers to pay State Advised Price of Rs. 280 a quintal but the millers are not ready to pay more than Rs. 225 a quintal.
The situation is quite similar in Maharashtra where farmers have given an ultimatum to the state government for its failure to declare better prices for the crop, failing which the farmers have said they will organize a 48-hour bandh. They have demanded the government to announce Rs. 3000 as Minimum Support Price (MSP) for sugarcane this year.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has issued a notice to the Ministry of Environment & Forest and Ministry of Water Resources regarding immersions of idols in rivers and water bodies of the country.
The notice has been issued following a petition filed to the NGT by an environmentalist Subhas Datta demanding a “uniform, practical, pragmatic” and well-accepted “standard operating procedure” for immersions.
The petition seeks a high powered committee/apex body like the NGT to monitor immersions in the country. The petition also suggests that while coming up with a standard operating procedure for immersion of idols, opinions and suggestions from religious gurus, environmental experts, social activists and scientists be taken.
The petition points to a recent order passed by the Allahabad High Court, which has imposed a “complete ban on immersion of idols in Ganga”, and questions how the practice can be permitted in West Bengal where the number of immersions is much higher than in Uttar Pradesh.
Supreme Court directs Centre and State Governments to an pass order within 3 months to fix tenure of civil servants
In a ruling that would affect the functioning of bureaucracy in the country, the apex court held that bureaucrats must be given an assured minimum tenure in posting. The SC bench observed that fixed tenure of bureaucrats would promote professionalism, efficiency and good governance and that much of the deterioration in the functioning of bureaucracy is due to political interference. In this regard, the court directed the Centre and state governments to pass an order within 3 months on giving fixed tenure to civil servants.
The ruling also empowered top bureaucrats to record in writing the oral instruction of political bosses on files so as not to be troubled later on for a particular decision.
As per apex court, such recording of political instructions by bureaucrats will also help in promoting transparency and will allow general public to access correct information.
Why this verdict from the Supreme court?
The court passed the judgment on a PIL filed by 83 retired bureaucrats including former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian seeking its directions for insulating bureaucracy from political interference. The verdict has come in the backdrop of controversies involving bureaucrats including Ashok Khemka, IAS officer of Haryana cadre over DLF-Robert Vadra land deal, and Durga Sakhti Nagpal, UP cadre IAS officer, who was targeted by the state government for alleged misconduct.
What was the PIL about?
The PIL had alleged that at present, the system of transfers, postings, promotions, disciplinary action and other personnel matters pertaining to the members of civil services are ad-hoc and non-transparent. It said that transfers are often used as instruments of reward and punishment, with officials being frequently transferred on the whims and caprices as well as the personal needs of local politicians and other vested interests. Officers, especially those in the All India Services serving in state governments, have no stability or security of tenure.
It sought that the civil servants at all levels should be given a minimum 3-year fixed tenure on each post to foster functional freedom and independence. It said that there should be an independent, high-powered and statutory ‘civil services board’ in each state which should process proposals of postings and transfers.