‘Timely’ curb to ensure sugar supply in festive season: Govt

NEW DELHI: The government on Wednesday said it took “timely and precautionary” measures to regulate sugar exports till October in an attempt to ensure adequate availability of the sweetener during the festival season in October-November and to maintain price stability. It also said the industry was aware that up to 100 lakh tonnes of sugar can be exported till the order kicks in from June.

Citing the exceptional spike in export of sugar in the past six years, Union food secretary Sudhanshu Pandey said, “It’s an agricultural commodity and the availability is limited. The export has gone up from 50,000 tonnes in 2016-17 to projected 100 lakh tonnes in 2021-22 (sugar season).

So, please take out this from your mind that this is any kind of curb…Since there is a global shortage; production in Brazil is not adequate and availability in the global market is less. Your domestic availability also has to be ensured so that tomorrow when there are no sugar stocks in October and November, then what do you do?” he said.

Officials said there was a fear in the government that the figure could have touch 120 lakh tonnes going by the current trend, leaving less than adequate stocks for the festival season, which is a lean period. It said the country needed to maintain at least 60 lakh tonnes of sugar stock on September 30 after export and provisioning the diversion of the sweetener for ethanol production.

Subodh Kumar Singh, a joint secretary in the ministry, said meeting the domestic requirement is the government’s priority and even industry players had agreed that the minimum stock of 60 lakh tonnes is needed to meet two-and-half months requirement. He said this will be the lowest ever closing stock in recent years to meet the requirement during the lean period and festive season.

Learning from the past crisis at ports after stricter curbs on wheat exports were introduced suddenly, the food ministry has now prepared detailed operational guidelines for export of sugar till May without any approval and with approval after June 1. Singh said the government wants exports to be smooth and without any problem. He said the timely decision will help mills and there should be “no crisis like thing at ports”.

The ministry also said the sugar production in India in 2021-22 at 355 lakh tonnes is the highest in the world. It said exports and diversion of sugar to ethanol have helped mills to clear their cane dues to farmers. It said the payment on account of procurement of sugarcane during this season is Rs 1.09 lakh crore, which is more than the payment made to wheat farmers.