UP holds huge potential in agriculture -- it needs right leadership to forge forward-looking path -Harish Damodaran
-The Indian Express
UP is truly at the crossroads: The state is uniquely poised to leverage opportunities from agriculture and build on the base laid by entrepreneurs, whether in sugar, potatoes, buffalo meat, leather or mentha oil. But, it is equally in danger of being taken back by decades, courtesy leaders with exclusivist and narrow-minded visions.
Efforts to market it as an Uttam Pradesh notwithstanding, UP or Uttar Pradesh, is for many, an “Ulta Pradesh” — a place where nothing works, except in reverse. Even more disdainful is “U Pay” — things can work, provided you grease the right palms.
Whichever way one looks at it, something more than ordinary is needed for a state that houses 16.5 per cent of India’s people, and would be the world’s fifth-most populous, were it a country. And that’s probably best achieved by leveraging possibilities in agriculture and allied activities, which does not require starting from scratch. Instead, one could simply build on what already exists. Consider the following:
The whole of northern UP practically — from Upper Doab, Rohilkhand, Terai and the Awadh region just above Lucknow, to Kushinagar — grows sugarcane. The state has 120-odd operational sugar mills with cane crushing capacity aggregating over 7,80,000 tonnes per day, nearly half of it established in the last 15 years. Given that the country today is producing too much sugar and, simultaneously, importing the bulk of its oil requirements, why not encourage mills to manufacture ethanol fuel directly from cane juice? The Narendra Modi government’s National Biofuels Policy permits such direct conversion, as opposed to making ethanol only from the residual molasses after production of sugar. It has also targeted 20 per cent ethanol blending in petrol by 2030, against an actual all-India average of 4.2 per cent for 2017-18 (December-November) and a likely 7.2 per cent this year.
UP has already overtaken Maharashtra as India’s top sugar producer. The next goal should be to transform the state’s ganna belt into an ethanol powerhouse. Give mills the choice whether to crystallise the juice from their cane into sugar, or ferment it straight into alcohol for potable, industrial and fuel blending purposes. At current sugar prices, they would rather produce more ethanol, making it also easier to clear outstanding dues to cane growers (Rs 10,500 crore-plus in UP). It would further help if all taxes on ethanol used for fuel blending are removed; the government’s revenue interests can be protected by reserving a certain percentage of mills’ alcohol output for potable liquor.
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