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Nitish Kumar Claims Bihar Growth as Prosperous Sugar Mill Turns Into Junkyard

Saurav Kumar |
The state government never tried to revive Muzaffarpur’s Motipur Sugar Factory, which once employed thousands of workers.
Motipur Sugar Factory, Muzaffarpur. Picture credit: Saurav Kumar.

Motipur Sugar Factory, Muzaffarpur. Picture credit: Saurav Kumar.

The Nitish Kumar government has failed to bring in investment and revamp sick industries in the last 15 years. 
Despite conceding that “big industries didn’t come to the state”, Kumar recently claimed that “Bihar regularly grew by more than 10% every year.” 

The closed Motipur Sugar Factory Limited is an example of misgovernance. One of the largest of its kind in Bihar, the factory is situated 17 miles west of Muzaffarpur city and equipped with machines imported from the Netherlands which are now defunct, rusted and useless.

The Motipur block, on the edge of the Muzaffarpur district, shares a border with East Champaran, which has the highest number of sugar factories.

The factory was set up by a Calcutta-based Kutchi Memon businessman named Seth Haji Abdur Rahim Oosman, who started crushing sugarcane on 66 acres using an estimated workforce of 1,800 workers in 1933. 

Oosman’s initiative endorsed sugarcane growing, which singlehandedly transformed Motipur and adjoining rural hamlets. The factory’s property stretched into a sprawling 1,297 acres used for sugarcane farming and distribution of cane seeds to farmers at a feasible rate. 

The rusted defunct locomotive engine of Motipur Sugar Factory.

The rusted defunct locomotive engine of Motipur Sugar Factory.

Streaks of sunlight through small holes from a wall falling on the factory’s rusted locomotive engine expose government apathy and negligence. Once used for carrying loads of raw material and refined sugar back and forth from the loading point to the endpoint, the engine is now part of the junkyard. 

“The factory has turned into a graveyard of precious and costly machines imported from the Netherlands and Germany,” says Ram Balak Singh (55), one of the factory guards. “My father was an employee here but was jobless after the factory shut down,” he adds. “The Bihar government messed up the factory’s revamp.” 

The story of Motipur Sugar Factory is almost four decades old when the Bihar State Sugar Corporation (BSSC), under the Bihar Sugar Undertakings (Acquisition) Ordinance, 1977, acquired it in 1980.

The factory operated till 1997 but with continuous managerial infighting and worker unrest, the BSSC decided to close it, rendering 1,800 employees and 1,000 contractual workers jobless and leaving sugarcane farmers in severe financial distress.

In a bid to revive the factory in 2011, the BSSC leased it to Indian Potash Limited (IPL), a private company. “The Corporation’s move to lease it to a private company did not go down well with the factory owners, who apprehended that the dues of employees won’t be paid,” says Usman Ahmad Khan, a veteran manager.

“The government’s intent to restart the factory to generate employment and industrialisation was missing—this is the saddest part of Motipur Sugar Factory’s fate,” added Usman. “The factory owes Rs 85 lakh to its employees, which is getting cleared after every three to four months. The financial due of the farmers were settled in 2015.”  

Subsequently, the lease was challenged by the owner in the Patna High Court (HC) with the argument that the state government was authorised to transfer a scheduled undertaking of the factory only either to the Corporation or to a state company.

In 2012, a Single Bench of the HC cancelled the lease agreement and directed the state government to return the factory and the land to the Corporation and the same to the former owners.

The closed employees’ provident office of Motipur Sugar Factory.

The closed employees’ provident office of Motipur Sugar Factory.

A walk through the premises gives a glimpse of the factory’s nearly seven-decade-long history. Scrambled and torn papers outside the Employees’ Provident Fund office reflect the sorry state of the factory, which was once the source of livelihood for thousands of rural households in the Muzaffarpur district. According to Singh, some former employees still visit the office to keep track of their provident fund and dues.

Amanullah Khan (65), who was in charge of the machines, considers the factory as a forgotten chapter that is only mentioned by local politicians before elections. 

“Hundreds of villages thrived on it. The factory was also the local market’s lifeline and brought economic stability to the region. But everything is dead,” says Amanullah, who earned Rs 8,000 per month, considered a dream salary by his generation.

Manoj Kumar Ray, a native of Morsandi village, used to grow sugarcane on 30 acres and supply it to the factory. “The Motipur Sugar Factory was once a blessing for sugarcane growers. ‘Grow, supply and gain’ was our mantra, which vanished into thin air,” he says sadly. 

Nearly, 7,000 farmers of Motipur and the surrounding region who once supplied sugarcane to the factory have vanished. The nearest sugar factories are pretty far—
Sidhwaliya factory, which is 85 km far in Gopalganj district, and Sagauli factory, 78 km far in East Champaran. 
There was a time when Bihar produced 30% of the country’s sugar, which drastically fell to a meagre 2%. The number of sugar mills has reduced from 28 since Independence to only10—Bagaha, Harinagar, Narkatiaganj, Majhaulia, Sasamusa, Gopalganj, Sidhwalia, Hasanpur, Lauria and Sugauli. 

The Riga Sugar Mill in Sitamarhi district, the last sugar factory to close down in Bihar, was also a victim of government ignorance. 

The writer is an independent journalist.

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