Lucknow: Lakhs of sugar cane farmers in Meerut division of western Uttar Pradesh are still waiting for a final settlement of their dues by sugar mills which collectively owe Rs 3,050 crore to the farmers. The sugar cane crushing season came to an end last month.
As is the case year on year, sugar mills of the Meerut division shut down without paying the cane farmers, and without any prior notice. It was a double whammy for sugar cane farmers in several districts of western Uttar Pradesh. The farmers have suffered due to the lockdown and the untimely rains which damaged thousands of hectares of the crop. They now face further distress due to the non-payment of dues by the sugar mills.
The mills have only paid Rs 2,098 crore of the Rs 5,149 crore worth of sugar cane purchased till June 1. The difference amounts to about Rs 3,050 crore and the government has also issued a notice to the mills regarding the payment.
Speaking to NewsClick, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) spokesperson Dharmendra Malik said: "This is not a matter of concern just for Meerut but for the entire state. Sugar mills are yet to clear pending dues worth Rs 18,000 crore for the current season in Uttar Pradesh. Despite twenty-two factories functioning over the past two months, they did not release any payment to sugar cane growers,” he added.
Accusing the government and mill owners of taking advantage of the lockdown and delaying payments, Malik said that the former was unable to create “any pressure on factories”. He said that farmer unions could not voice themselves either due to the lockdown. “We did not hit the road either due to social distancing norms and they took advantage of our compulsions," the BKU leader said.
According to the Sugarcane (Control) Order 1966, factories must pay the farmers in full within 14 days of taking the crop for crushing.
Farmers’ associations have warned of a statewide agitation if the government does not resolve the issue and not release their dues immediately.
Naresh Chaudhary, a small sugar cane grower in Mawana town in Meerut district, mentioned that there is only one sugar factory in Mawana which stopped functioning on May 25 without clearing their dues. He said that the farmers agitated against the government on more than ten occasions and the factory finally released their payment on January 14 as a result. “More than four months' worth of payment is still left," he added.
“We spend a lot of money and put in hard work to grow sugar cane but when the time for payment comes around, we are left begging from the government. Due to the lockdown, we have become helpless as we are not able to pay school fees for our children or buy fodder for our animals," he added, saying that the rules and regulations leave poor farmers to suffer while the rich get by.
Udaiveer Singh, a sugar cane grower and Meerut Vice-President of BKU, told NewsClick that "almost every sugar mill has cleared their dues but not those in Meerut and Mawana, which are far behind in terms of payment. Mawana sugar mill has not paid its dues for the last season as well. The situation is the same for almost every mill here,” he added.
He mentioned that even the Tikaula Sugar Mills Limited, which is usually on time with payments, has not paid farmers due to the lockdown. “The mill owners claimed that demand for sugar demand fell during the lockdown as mall and restaurants were closed. The consumption of liquor and soft drinks was low as well and it is why they said they were unable to pay to the farmers,” he added.
Singh said that 80% of the people from the region, especially farmers from western Uttar Pradesh, are dependent on cane farming. He added that whichever party comes to power promises to work for their welfare before the elections but leaves them in the lurch after assuming office.
C.B. Patodia, President of Uttar Pradesh Sugar Mills Association (UPSMA), has sought help from the Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government for a cash subsidy bailout so that sugar cane farmers could clear their outstanding dues.
The letter written by Patodia said: “In this hour of deep crisis, we look upon you to bail out the industry by way of a cash subsidy. This shall help augment our cash flows, so that crushing operations and cane price payments continue."