Mill Owners Rule Over Sugar Cane Farmers In UP

The recent Muzaffarnagar riots in UP, sponsored by the Samajwadi Party government and the BJP, not only claimed 50,000 lives and rendered thousands homeless, but the rampant communal passions also created a communal divide in the sugar cane belt of Western UP where the sugar mill owners, in collusion with the SP government, is taking full advantage of the situation to loot the sugar cane farmers.

The biggest farmers’ organization in UP, the Bharatiya Kisan Union, whose leader was formerly Mahendra Singh Tikait and is currently his son Naresh Tikait, has its base in Western UP. The BKU President Naresh Tikait’s brother Rakesh Tikait was seen openly seen on the same platform with BJP-RSS leaders in Muzaffarnagar and inciting the riots with inflammatory speeches. The BJP-ization of the BKU has dealt a huge blow to the unity of the farmers in Western UP. Many BKU leaders , under the leadership of MS Tikait’s erstwhile colleague and senior leader of BKU Ghulam Mohammad Jaula (also known as Mahatmaji), left the BKU and formed the Kisan Mazdoor Sangh.

Sensing this divide within the sugar cane farmers of Western UP, the sugar mill owners and the SP government dealt them a body blow. First, the government deliberately and inordinately delayed fixing the rate of sugar cane. Moreover, no pressure was put upon the sugar mill owners to start milling operations on time. Thus the mills which normally started work between 15 October and 15 November, this year started work only after 3 December. Meanwhile, in order to vacate the fields for the sowing of the wheat crop, the farmers were forced to sell their sugar cane at Rs 90 to Rs 150 per quintal, and sell the presses and crushers. This caused the farmers in the State a loss of thousands of crores. While the farmers were selling their produce at throwaway prices, the government was keeping up a pretext of talks with the mill owners, and the end result of these talks left the farmers cheated and looted, while the mill owners profited to the tune of thousands of crores of rupees.

First, CM Akhilesh Yadav announced that this year the rate of sugar cane would remain the same as last year (Rs 280 and 275 per quintal respectively for A and B grades), whereas according to a government agricultural survey report, the outlay for the produce of 1 quintal sugar cane is Rs 280. Therefore, has the government decided that farmers should sell sugar cane at the rate of outlay? This was not all. Sugar mill owners refused to purchase sugar cane at this rate and stopped milling operations. The SP government, having come to power on the strength of farmers’ votes, bowed to the diktat of the mill owners and permitted them to pay Rs 20 per quintal of the purchase price after perai and also gave them a 889 crore package.

Produced at an outlay of Rs 280 per quintal, after a cut of Rs 20 per quintal, the farmer will now get Rs 260 and Rs 255 per quintal for grade A and B respectively. Minus the amount of Rs 9 per quintal spent in washing, the farmer will thus get in hand Rs 251 for grade A and Rs 246 for grade B. The SP government, in power on strength of farmers’ votes, has left these very farmers no option but to either commit suicide in the face of such heavy losses, or to migrate here and there in search of work. At the same time, in addition to fixing the price of sugar cane according to the wishes of the mill owners and giving them an 889 crore package, the government has also waived their purchase tax, toll tax, reduced the tax on sugar, and waived the Rs 6.20 pr quintal commission to be paid by the mill owners to the sugar cane co-operatives (cane unions). The government says this commission will be paid by the government itself, whereas there is no such provision in the Cane Act. The money from this commission was being used for providing the farmers with fertilizers, seeds, means of irrigation, pesticides, and to construct schools, colleges, roads, and bridges, which have all been put at risk now.

Along with the reduced prices, another big crisis for the sugar cane farmers of UP this year is the non-payment of 23 crores by the mill owners even 9 months after the purchase of the cane, whereas the Cane Act stipulates payment within 14 days of purchase, with interest to be paid after this period. The UP CM proudly announced that talks have been held with mill owners to solve their problems; the government’s priority is to keep the mills running, therefore the issue of payment of dues will not be raised. The farmers are being shamelessly told to bring fresh sugar cane produce without asking for payment for their previous produce. This is the loot perpetrated on the farmers by the so-called pro-farmer UP government and the mill owners! The SP is busy gearing up for Mission 2014 in UP and SP Supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, nurturing dreams of becoming PM, feels that this dream will be fulfilled not through the ‘votes’ of the people in UP but through the ‘notes’ of the sugar mill owners.

Not having received payment for their previous produce, the sugar cane farmers in the State are on the verge of starvation; they are unable to repay their debts; ornaments and other items of value from their houses have reached the lockers of moneylenders; they are unable to perform the marriages of sons and daughters; children’s names have been struck off schools due to non-payment of fees. Faced with this dire situation, farmers have started committing suicide. Two farmers have committed suicide in Lakhimpur Kheri. When the farmers agitated with one of the dead bodies at the gates of the sugar mills, the guards of the mill owners punished them with lathis and bullets. Clearly, the SP government is completely under the sway of the mill owners.

Despite the effects of the Muzaffarpur riots, the UP sugar cane farmers are on the path of agitation. Their demands are that the rate of sugar cane should be announced as Rs 350 per quintal, previous dues should be paid with interest to farmers, and the price of sugar cane should be paid in a single instalment. The farmers have understood that the proposal to pay Rs 20 per quintal later is part of the anti-farmer Rangarajan Committee recommendations, which advocate 80% payment on the spot and the remaining 20% after the perai season when the profits have been realized: in case of non-profit, the 80% already paid shall be considered full payment. To guard against this back door method of denying them 20% payment, the farmers are demanding full payment in a single instalment.

It is with these demands that the Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh organized a State wide dharna-demonstration on 25 November, with programmes at Moradabad, Baheri (Bareilley), Paniya (Lakhimpur Kheri),Gorakhpur, Gazipur and other places. 2 December was observed as Protest Day throughout the State to protest against the farmers’ suicides in Lakhimpur. Farmers’ protests are continuing all over the State, particularly in Western UP. In Baheri, an indefinite dharna is in progress under the leadership of ABKMS State executive members Mohd. Javed and Mohan Singh. The protests by the Kisan Union, it is to be noted, is being conducted jointly in collaboration with the BJP.

The need of the hour is to fight the attempts by communal forces to break farmers’ unity in UP and to rebuild the forces of the farmers’ movement, for which the agitation against land acquisition in Bareilly is showing the way. The farmers of UP are facing loot and destruction, and the ABKMS is determined to take up the challenge of uniting the farmers in the struggle to fight against this injustice.

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