Marhaura (Saran/Bihar): Satender Singh, a farmer from Marhaura, has lost faith in all the promises made and assurances given during the elections. Four years ago, PM Narendra Modi had promised the local residents including farmers that smoke will soon come out of the chimney of the closed Marhaura sugar mill in Bihar’s Saran district. There is no sign of any such smoke yet.
Rajbanshi Rai, who had worked as a seasonal worker in the mill 21 years ago – before it was closed down – is an old man now. He told NewsClick that in the past two decades, leaders from all the political parties have been promising revival of this mill, but to no avail.
This is not the only closed sugar mill in the state. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had to face a protest by an angry group of workers of Motipur sugar mill in the adjoining district of Muzaffarpur on Friday during his election meeting – where Kumar was seeking votes for Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Ajay Nishad.
Protesting workers raised posters and placards questioning the CM regarding his promises ahead of the 2015 Bihar Assembly polls. Kumar, however, maintained silence.
Ahead of 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Narendra Modi had said that during his next visit, he would sip tea with sugar from Motihari sugar mill in East Champaran district. The mill was closed down in 2002, and still remains closed.
Singh and Rai pointed out that neither Rashtriya Janata Dal Chief Lalu Prasad – who had won Saran Lok Sabha seat and had become Union Railway Minister – nor senior BJP leader and former Union Minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who has been an MP since 2009 have made any effort to revive the sugar mills.
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“There is no hope for its revival,” said Kameshwar Singh, a small hotel owner, who had worked in the mill before it was shut.
Marhaura Kisan Sangarsh Morcha leader Raviranjan Singh told NewsClick that hundreds of families including sugarcane growing farmers and workers suffered a major blow after the mill was shut. “Since the mill has been closed, sugarcane farmers have been forced to stop cultivation, and the workers have turned jobless," he said.
According to him, more than Rs 10 crore dues of sugarcane farmers and workers remain unpaid till date. More than 1,000 workers – including daily wage and seasonal workers – were working in the mill.
Cawnpore Sugar Works Ltd, locally known as Marhaura sugar mill, was one of the first sugar mills in the country, established in 1904 by the British rules. It was closed in 1998 after its functioning deteriorated. It was a government-owned mill at the time of its shutdown.
Shankar Bhagwan Ojha, who has been fighting for revival of this mill, claimed that in 2007, an industrialist from the neighbouring state Uttar Pradesh had tried to revive it. Rudy had then assured the sugarcane growers that the factory would reopen soon. He reportedly had also urged the farmers to grow sugarcane again. “But the mill remained closed. Hundreds of farmers, who had cultivated sugarcane following Rudy’s advice, had to burn the crop in their fields,” said Ojha.
The old building of mill stands surrounded by wild growth of bushes and trees. Ojha said that some costly parts of the machines made of brass, copper and iron were stolen due to absence of care and security. Some locals have reportedly been taking old bricks from the mill building as well.
Marhaura once was home to four major industries — sugar mill, Morton Sweets, Saran Engineering and an oil mill. One by one, all of them were closed.
As per the Sugarcane Development Department’s official website, there are 28 sugar mills – 11 operational and 17 closed.
Out of 11 operational sugar mills in Bihar, five are in West Champaran – Bagaha sugar mill, Harinagar sugar mill, Narkatiaganj sugar mill, Majhauli sugar mill and Lauria sugar mill. The sugar mill in Chanpatia has been closed.
Three sugar mills are in Gopalganj district followed by one sugar mill each in East Champaran, Sitamarhi and Samastipur districts. With half of the sugar mills from the state being in the West and East Champaran districts, these are the largest sugarcane-producing districts of Bihar, followed by Gopalganj, Sitamarhi, Samastipur, Madhubani, Vaishali and Siwan.
The area under sugarcane cultivation was 2.69 lakh hectares in 2017-18, and it has increased to three lakh hectares in 2018-19, according to the Sugarcane Development Department. The sugarcane production was 176.10 lakh MT in 2017-18 and 210.00 lakh MT in 2018-19.
The Saran constituency will go to polls in the general elections on May 6.
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