SUGAR prices both nationally and internationally are on a firm wicket and that is giving hope to farmers and experts in Karnataka’s sugar sector that a revival/turnaround of government-owned Mysugar can indeed take place.
Mysugar is located in Mandya which falls in south Karnataka, also known as the Vokkaliga heartland of the state.
A hoary past
Mysugar also known as Mysoru Sugar Company dates back to the 19th century having been founded in 1833-34. It was set up by the then Mysuru rulers. The availability of plentiful water, thanks to river Cauvery, meant Mandya (where the factory is located) played host to two of the most water-guzzling crops, paddy and sugarcane.
Eventually the district of Mandya which is located in southern part of the state came to be known as Karnataka’s sugar bowl. The advent of north Karnataka as a major cane growing belt came many, many years later thanks to the construction of the Almati dam.
The basic infrastructure is intact
Sources in the sugar industry said that Mysugar could be revived. “It has a crushing capacity of 5,000 tcd (tonnes of cane daily) besides having its own co-gen (cogeneration) facility. Only new machinery needs to be installed to commence the operations again. Rising sugar prices can help in the revival,” a source told News9.
Estimates indicate that for every tonne of cane crushed the now shut factory could probably have net earnings of about ₹200-300 per tonne.
All this is fine but remember Mysugar is a government company and the public perception is that anything government means a white elephant.
But there are sugarcane growers who believe that if the government is willing, the revival of Mysugar would be a breeze. “Look at Jungle Lodges. Isn’t that efficiently run? Don’t we have the likes of HAL, BEL or BEML? Why should being in the government fold mean inefficiency and sloth,” one farmer leader in Mandya observed.
The key is to have efficient managers who are given adequate authority and responsibility. However, recruiting such staffers is easier said than done. One has to pay market-determined salaries and a government company is accountable for literally every penny spent!
A musical chair?
The farmer leader said that government officials who had no clue about the sugar sector were at the helm of affairs in Mysugar. Mysugar reportedly has a dubious distinction of having had 36 managing directors during the last two decades. “The norm is that the new appointee has barely any time to settle but he or she is soon shunted out. That upsets the system and this kind of adhoc approach has driven Mysugar to this state of misery,” another observer said.
Ironically enough there are four large sugar factories operating in Mandya district besides the Pandavapura Sahakara Sakkare Kharkane Niyamitha (Pandavapura Co-operative Sugar Factory).
Me and my Mandya
News of government looking at leasing out Mysugar hasn’t gone down well with many cane growers in and around Mandya.
“It is our pride and we can’t digest the idea of someone else coming and lording over Mysugar. All attempts to gain political mileage by handing over Mysugar to some interested party will boomerang,” warns one of the sugarcane growers.
It is also being said that one farmer producer organization (FPO) had placed a request to takeover Mysugar on a long lease and run the operations. However, the FPO concerned had also sought interest-free loan from the government for the revival of the company!
Experts estimate that the unit would need about ₹100 crore for its revival and that money can be used to install new equipment and machinery. Ironically enough Mysugar has a 36MW co-gen facility but that hasn’t been used as there is no raw material (bagasse) available!
Politics all the way
More recently Mysugar became embroiled in controversy with a war of words between former CM, HD Kumaraswamy and the incumbent MP of Mandya, Sumalatha. Sumalatha is the widow of Ambareesh, a late Kannada thespian who enjoyed enormous goodwill and popularity in Mandya.