16 finance department teams begin audit of seven private sugar mills in the state

As many as 16 teams from the Punjab finance department have started financial auditing of seven private sugar mills, owned by wealthy and influential people in the state.

Many of these mills have defaulted on payment to cane growers in the past despite subsidies from successive state governments. Sugar cane growers have mostly protested against the non-payment of their dues.

Punjab Agriculture Minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal, who ordered the audit, said finance department teams were tasked with the task on Monday. “No less than 16 teams have been assigned. I had written to the finance department to provide teams so that everything could be audited and we had a correct picture of what these sweets did.

He added that these teams will visit the sugar mills in the coming days and prepare a detailed report. “We will then see what measures need to be taken.”

Punjab has seven private sugar factories, including Rana Sugars in Buttar Siviyan in Baba Bakala, the one associated with former Congress leader and minister Rana Gurjit Singh. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government is already taking action against former ministers on different issues.

Sources said that while AB Sugars in Dasuya and Nahar Sugar Mill in Amloh had settled farmers’ dues, the others still have to settle dues of Rs 150 crore from the last milling season. Of these, Phagwara’s Golden Sandhar Sugar Mill owes the maximum amount. Sugar cane farmers had recently blocked the trunk road to protest Phagwara mill fees.

Rana Gurjit told The Indian Express: “They are welcome to do the audit. There is no wrongdoing in sweets. Contributions are a cyclical process. We pay them and then there is a balance. Farmers want sweets to work. Cane is the most profitable crop. I can only say that two plus two will make four. I can’t do six and they can’t do three.

If there had been wrongdoing, do you think the Enforcement Branch would have spared me? ” He asked.

Protests by sugarcane growers to get their pending dues from sugar mills – both cooperative and private – have become an annual affair in Punjab.

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In Punjab, sugarcane is sown on 87,000 to 97,000 hectares of land. Farmers ensure an average yield of 835 to 843 quintals per hectare. Last year, Punjab had 87,000 hectares of sugarcane and the mills crushed 641 lakh quintals. The government has announced the State Recommended Price (SAP) of Rs 345, Rs 350 and Rs 360 per quintal for early, medium and late maturing crops, respectively. In 2021-22, sugar cane growers were to receive a total of Rs 2,307 crore. They were, however, only paid Rs 1,400 crore.

By the end of the 2021-22 milling season, 16 mills – nine cooperatives and 7 private – had yet to pay farmers Rs 900 crore. Following a protest and after talks with the government, the factories cleared Rs 550 crore. As of now, cooperative mills owe farmers Rs 195 crore and private mills Rs 150 crore just for the last milling season. Some farmers have yet to receive payments for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 milling seasons. The Phagwara plant is one of the biggest defaulters – owing Rs 72 crore of which Rs 36 crore are from 2019-20 and 2020-21 and the rest of the last milling season.

Rachel J. Bradford