Padmashri Dr. Vitthalrao Vikhe Patil , the pioneer of Sugar Co-operative movement, who had a humble beginning, was chiefly instrumental in, organizing the much exploited sugarcane ‘growers of the 44 villages, in and around Pravaranagar, way back in 1948, and establishing Asia’s first co-operative sugar factory, which was commissioned in 1950. Born in a farmers family at Loni in 1901, he was distressed by the pitiable plight of the poor, the illiterate and the downtrodden peasantry who were exploited by the money-lenders, feudal lords, and private sugar factory owners. In those days the local peasantry of Pravara area had to face difficulties in marketing of sugarcane, as conversion of sugarcane into Sugar was totally uneconomical and the “Jaggery Prices, reached the rock bottom. Therefore, Padmashri began exploring ways of uplifting the farmers of this area. It dawned on him that co-operative movement was the only ideal medium to achieve his goal. So begins the saga of co-operative movement in India.
He pioneered co-operative movement as a tool for social, educational & economic upliftment of the rural masses. His untiring efforts changed the rural scene of Maharashtra & created awareness amongst the people to lead a prospective purposeful life. He was awarded “Padmashree” the distinguished title in appreciation of his life’s work with the co-operative movement, at the hands of the President of India, Late. Dr. Rajendra Prasad in 1961. He was felicitated with the honorary D. Lit. degree by University of Pune in 1978 and Doctor of Science in 1979 by Mahatma Phule Krishiv Vidyapeeth, Rahuri.
To realize the visionary thoughts, his worthy son-Hon’ble Shri. Balasaheb Vikhe Patil, Ex Minister of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, established “Dr. Vikhe Patil Foundation”. While working for the economic prosperity of the farmers, Vittahalrao was also conscious of the needs of their children, especially that of quality education. It was not long before he once again used his co-operative mantra to ensure the direct participation of the farmers in this project. The farmers contributed towards the education fund from every tonne of the sugarcane sent to the factory. Vittahalrao was conferred the Padmashri in 1962, D. Litt. by Pune University in 1978 and D. Sc. by Mahatma Phule Agriculture University in 1979. Soon enough, Pravara Rural Education Society was established. His legacy is ably continued by the subsequent generations. Led by his illustrious son Shri. Balasaheb Vikhe Patil, a veteran parliamentarian, his grandsons Shri. Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, ex. Cabinet minister for Agriculture, Government of Maharashtra & Dr. Ashok Patil, CEO, Pravara Medical Trust & the first Indian to become a President of International Association of agricultural Medicine and Rural Health (IAAMRH) are actively carrying on the grand work. During the last four decades PIMS – Pravara Institute of Medical Sciences , Padmashri Vikhe Patil Foundation & Dr. Vikhe Patil Foundation Pune have flourished as value-centred educational institutions.