Patna: It is official now--there is no hope for re-opening of Motihari Sugar Mill in Bihar. Nearly seven years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised to reopen the defunct Motihari Sugar Mill, Bihar Sugarcane Minister Pramod Kumar has directed district officials to estimate its asset for sell to pay off dues of workers and farmers.
Pramod Kumar, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA from Motihari, has made it clear that it was not possible to re-open or revive Motihari Sugar Mill. He also asked the district magistrate to review the condition of closed Motihari Sugar Mill and Kalyanpur Sugar Refinery and Chakiya Sugar Mill at a meeting recently, an official of the department said.
“The Sugarcane Minister has asked to submit a report within 15 days about the closed Motihari Sugar Mill pending dues and estimate of its assets. He stated that pending dues of workers and farmers would be paid by selling assets of the Motihari Sugar Mill,” the official said on condition not to quote names.
According to officials in Motihari, the district authorities are likely to acquire the properties of the closed Motihari Sugar Mill following the directive of the Sugarcane Minister. The properties of Motihari Sugar Mill have been disputed for years owing to various reasons.
The Opposition Mahagathbandhan including Left parties’ leaders have repeatedly accused PM Narendra Modi of forgetting his promise to the people of Motihari.
As a prime ministerial candidate of the BJP during the election campaign for 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Modi promised to reopen the Motihari Sugar Mill if elected to power. At an election meeting in Motihari, Modi had in chaste Hindi assured local people amid loud applause that during his next visit he would sip tea with sugar made from this mill--“Agli baar aaunga toh abhi band mill ke chini se bani chai piyunga.”
However, it is about seven years now that local residents including workers and farmers still await his visit.
The Shree Hanuman Sugar Factory, popularly known as Motihari Chini Mill, was closed in 2002, leaving nearly 700 workers with unemployment. The factory, spread over 40 acres of land, owes approximately Rs 80 crore to its workers and nearly 10,000 farmers for last over one and half decade.
Motihari is the district headquarters of East Champaran, the site of Mahatma Gandhi's first Satyagraha in 1917 in protest against the exorbitant taxes imposed by the British government on indigo farmers.
CPI (ML) leader Dhirendra Jha recalled that over 16 years ago, 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 so many years in power, his promise remains on paper. This is despite the fact that Kumar is an ally of Modi’s BJP and the ruling NDA leaders claimed that the state government is a double engine government with NDA in power at the Centre and the state.
In 2019, Newsclick reported that local people of Motihari alleged a nexus of powerful people, including local ruling party leaders, the land mafia and government officers, was more interested in grabbing the ‘costly’ land of the now closed Motihari Sugar Mill rather than make any serious efforts 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.
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 that in 2015, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had compensated for the portion of land in 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 the last 17 years. They have not been paid salaries for 133 months. There are many who are struggling for survival after the mill was shut,” he added.
Manav said the 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 death, he told Newsclick.
For the last 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 the 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 a CBI probe and also issued a gazette notification, but the central agency has not taken up the case so far.