Lucknow: Hundreds of sugarcane farmers in Muzaffarnagar took out a protest march on Tuesday under the banner of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), demanding payment of their dues from nine sugar mills, which they said had now surpassed the Rs 1,000 crore figure.
The farmers claimed that despite repeated letters and memorandum, the Uttar Pradesh government was not helping them in the matter.
In their first protest after cane crushing season, the farmers also clashed with policemen who had put up barricades. At least one farmer was reportedly injured in the clash.
Earlier, the farmers gathered inside Kotwali Bhudana police station of Muzaffarnagar city and marched towards the Collectorate. To mark their protest, they also tied bulls on Bhudana police station’s boundary wall.
Addressing the gathering, Rakesh Tikait, son of late farmer leader Mahendra Singh Tikait, and national spokesperson of BKU, accused the state government and the administration for being “hand in glove” with sugar mills owners. “Farmers have failed to repay the debt which they had taken from banks,” he added.
“There are dues of around Rs 1,000 crore from Muzaffarnagar alone and we were ready to have a discussion with sugar mills on how to move forward to solve the problem. But, they did not pay heed. What choice did we have? We were not going to remain silent,” said Tikait.
Tikait also said that if the dues of farmers were not cleared by August 30, the BKU would launch a state-wide agitation.
“During the current season, sugar mills still owe sugarcane farmers Rs, 14,000 crore and an additional interest component of nearly Rs 2,500 crore. This is a critical time for farmers to have money in their hands as they need to meet the expenses of kharif sowing which is currently underway,” said Choudhary Pushpendra Singh, President of the Kisan Kheti Sangh.
Most family members of farmers, who were working in urban areas, have returned home with no work during the lockdown period. Farmers not only have to prepare the land for cultivation but also have to take care of their families. “For this, they need money in hand,” said Abhiram Nagpal, a farmer leader from Shamli.
But, instead of nudging the mills to settle the current dues, the government is talking about the measures that it has taken in the past, he added.
Recently, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had claimed that over Rs 1 lakh crore had been paid to cane farmers towards sugarcane arrears in the past three years. This sparked a controversy with some farmers and their unions urging the government to make arrangements for settling the cane payment due to them in the current season, too.
The chief minister said last month that since his government came into being in 2017, sugarcane arrears worth Rs 1,00,800 crore were deposited in the bank accounts of 47 lakh sugarcane farmers in the state, which he claimed was a record.
Many farmer leaders and sugarcane union, however, argued that the more important issue was the dues that were still to be paid. Farmer need it badly because farmers, like others from other walks of life, are suffering due to the COVID-19 induced lockdown, they said.
“The CM’s statement is like someone saying that the company you work for has paid you so much salary over the past 10 years. But, what matters most is whether you got salary in the past three months," said a farmer.
He said the CM’s statement did more harm to farmers. “With the news spreading far and wide, most people thought that farmers recently received Rs 1 lakh crore in arrears. Farmers had a tough time convincing those who had given them inputs on credit, or those they owed money to, that the CM was talking about the money given in the past. The fact is that 47 lakh sugarcane farmers still have to get over Rs 15,000 crore towards cane payment,” the farmer said.
Sugar mills owned by the government have to pay farmers nearly 40% of sugarcane arrears, said VM Singh, national president of the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sanghatan.
“The 24 sugar mills owned by the government bought sugarcane worth Rs 3,123 crore during the current sugar season. They have so far paid only Rs 1,800 crore to farmers and still have to pay Rs 1,280 crore toward cane payment. Not to talk of the mills in the cooperative sector,” he said.
Singh accused the Adityanath-led Bharatiya Janata Party government of not doing anything for sugarcane farmers in the state. The sugarcane price has not been raised even once since he came to power.
“For the last three years, farmers have been selling the cane for the same price — Rs 315 per quintal. Even if adjusted for inflation of a nominal 4%, the farmers should have got Rs 358 per quintal. Moreover, sugar mills are getting an additional 1 kg sugar from the same quantity of sugarcane. Even after all this, farmers are being paid the old price,” he said.
NewsClick also spoke to a representative of sugar mills, who said on the condition of anonymity, that the arrears would be paid once mills started selling sugar. He said sugar sales had slowly started picking up with the lifting of lockdown.
Last month, a 55-year-old farmer, the father of five daughters and a son, allegedly committed suicide due to non-procurement of his sugarcane produce in Muzaffarnagar district.
In the neighbouring district of Meerut, the situation of sugarcane farmers is precarious as well. Lakhs of cane farmers in the district are still waiting for a final settlement of their dues by sugar mills, which collectively owe Rs 3,050 crore to them.