Motihari, Bihar: Away from this bustling town, one thing that local people openly express is their anger against the ‘nexus’ of powerful people, including local ruling party leaders, the land mafia and government officers, who they allege are more interested in grabbing the ‘costly’ land of the now closed Motihari Sugar Mill rather than make any serious effort to revive it.
The land on which the now defunct Motihari Sugar Mill stands, is drawing attention because of its high real estate value. Owing to the land’s close proximity to the National Highway, it is believed that some ‘powerful people’ have their eyes set on it.
According to sources, a group of powerful people have already managed to purchase the land in their names and sale deeds have been registered in contravention of the government’s order banning sale of the mill land.
Motihari is the district headquarters of East Champaran, the site of Mahatma Gandhi's first Satyagraha in 1917, which was in protest against the exorbitant taxes imposed by the British government on indigo farmers.
“Some powerful people have already targeted land of Baria Garden whose ownership lies with the Motihari Sugar Mill. They have already made an attempt to capture this land through dubious means. Such people are not interested in revival of the mill,” said Chandrika Singh, a local businessman.
Sattar Ansari, a retired government employee, said: “Land of the closed sugar mill is an easy target because these powerful people have the support of ruling party leaders and also manage to get help from the local administration.”
Both Singh and Ansari were unanimous in their apprehension that no one was interested in the mill’s revival as it stood on premium land, which would be gradually grabbed by these ‘powerful people’. Both, however, declined to name anyone.
Triveni Tiwary, former Communist Party of India’s (CPI) MLA from Motihari Assembly seat (from 1985 to 2000), alleged that sitting Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP and Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh was also eyeing opening a medical college in the name of his late father on the same land of Baria Garden and had already formed a trust in which most of the members were from the ruling party. Till now, however, the proposed medical college has not set up. “Singh is not serious about re-opening of the Motihari Sugar Mill. This is common knowledge here. People are angry with him as he has won this seat several times and is contesting again by saying that this is his last time,” Tiwary told Newsclick
The CPIL leader also alleged that because of the personal interests of powerful people vested in the land, 44 acres of Baria Garden with fruit-bearing mango and litchi trees, was already been grabbed by them. They had registered the land on fake documents, he claimed.
According to Tiwary, the mill was closed in 2002, but Singh, who has been representing Motihari in Parliament and the local MLA, both of whom are from BJP, have not made any serious move for its revival. He said about 600 workers were employed in the mill when it was shut and thousands of farmers were dependent on it for selling their sugarcane.
Nearly 14 years ago, when when Nitish Kumar was voted to power for the first time in 2005, he had given an assurance that all closed sugar mills, including Motihari, would be re-opened in the state. But even after three terms in power, his promise remains on paper.
The CPI leader recalled that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi had forgotten his promise to the people of Motihari five years ago. “Modi had then said that during his next visit, he would sip tea with sugar from this mill. People are now want to ask him about his failure to fulfill his promise,” he told Newsclick.
No sugarcane has been cultivated on 100 acres of mill land ever since it was closed. Even local farmers have stopped growing sugarcane, a major crop in this part of Bihar.
Manohar Manav of Bandhua Mazdoor Mukti Morcha alleged: “It was an illegal sale deed that was registered in connection with the land of Motihari Sugar Mill. The sale deeds of mill lands are not legal as it is not independent land. Land sharks or land mafia with support of powerful people are eyeing the mill land”. He demanded a judicial enquiry into mill land’s sale deeds, alleging a ‘big conspiracy’ behind it.
Manav said in 2015, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had compensated for the portion of land of Baria Garden that fell under its highway construction after signing a cheque in the name of Hanuman Sugar Mill, locally known as Motihari Sugar Mill. “How can the same land become an independent land in 2018? There is a conspiracy to grab the mill land,” he told Newsclick.
He said sale deeds of land belonging to the sugar mill cannot be registered without paying dues to the mill’s workers. “Workers have been fighting for their rights for last 17 years. They have not been paid salaries of 133 months.There are many, who are struggling for survival after the mill was shut,” he added.
Manav said mill workers’ fight for justice had even resulted in the death of two of them in April 2017. Naresh Shrivastava and Suraj Baitha, the two workers in their protest against non-payment of their dues, immolated themselves and succumbed to injuries, he told Newsclick.
For the past two year, their widows--Purnima and Maya Devi --are waiting for a CBI probe into the death of their husbands. Last year, in April 2018, both the widows along with other workers staged a hunger strike for days to draw attention of the Prime Minister, who was visiting Motihari at that time. “Nothing happened and their demand for justice was ‘silently’ ignored,” he said.
Following several protests, the Bihar government recommended for a CBI probe and also issued a gazette notification, but the CBI has not taken up the case so far.
“We had filed a PIL (public interest litigation) in the Patna High Court in this connection. The court is yet to start hearing it,” Manav, who is working with Swami Agnivesh, told Newsclick.
As per the Sugarcane Development Department’s official website, there are 28 sugar mills – 11 operational and 17 closed – in Bihar.
As Motihari goes to polls on May 12 in the sixth phase of the 2019 general elections, the issue of re-opening of Motihari Sugar Mill is being raised by all political parties. The ruling BJP and Janata Dal (United), however, are silent this time, unlike in the last polls.
Leaders of the Grand Alliance forged by the Opposition, however, are vocal in raising this issue and are promising to re-open it. The CPI candidate Prabhakar Jaiswal, supported by all Left parties said, his number one agenda would be to do whatever possible to get the mill re-opened to provide employment opportunities to local people and help sugarcane farmers.