Lucknow: In a heart-breaking incident, a 55-year-old farmer, the father of five daughters and a son, allegedly committed suicide due to the non-procurement of his sugarcane produce in Muzaffarnagar district in Uttar Pradesh.
After he could see no light in sight, Ompal Singh, a resident of Sisoli village, which falls under the jurisdiction of Bhorakala police station, left his home for the fields on Thursday. Later in the day, his body was found hanging from a tree.
Singh’s family blamed Khatauli’sSugar Mill for his death, alleging that two and a half bighas of sugarcane was still standing in his field when the closure of the sugar mill was announced. “He had been depressed over his inability to sell the sugarcane produce due to the lockdown," Jaiveer, the brother of Ompal, told NewsClick. He added that his brother took the extreme step after seeing that his sugarcane crop was drying in the field and he was not getting a procurement slip.
"Khatauli Sugar Mill had issued a warning regarding closure three days ago and weighing thorns installed in the village have also been uprooted. Sugar cane crop is standing on about two and a half bighas of agricultural land. After being warned about the mill shutting shop, my brother talked to the crusher operators about his crop, but they refused to take the sugar cane as well," his brother added, mentioning that Ompal, the sole breadwinner in the family, was under a lot of stress as a result.
However, the district administration denied that Ompal Singh had committed suicide due to the non-procurement of his sugar cane produce.
"A preliminary investigation revealed that Ompal ended his life by hanging himself from a tree due to a family dispute over land," said District Magistrate (DM) Selvakumari J, who asserted that the mills had not stopped procuring sugar cane.
Kumar Bhupendra Singh, the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) of Muzaffarnagar's Budhana tehsil, told NewsClick: "It came to our knowledge that a sugar cane grower committed suicide after he failed to receive a procurement slip and the mill suddenly announced a shut down. The case will be investigated if his relatives file a complaint against the negligence of the sugar mill’s management. It is then that further action will be taken,” he said, mentioning that the family would be recommended for financial assistance from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.
The suicide triggered a protest by farmers on Friday. They demanded that a case be registered against sugar mill officials for failing to procure sugar cane from farmers. The angry farmers staged a road blockade and refused to let the body be cremated until their demands were met.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) chief Naresh Tikait said that farmers have been facing financial difficulties and not getting a proper price for their produce due to the lockdown.
"The condition of sugar cane growers in Western Uttar Pradesh is pathetic and it is why they are taking such extreme steps. Their expenses are higher than savings and they are already in debt. What will we do if we do not take such steps?" Tikait told NewsClick.
Accusing the BJP government, the BKU chief added: "This is the third consecutive year that the Yogi Adityanath government has not increased the price of cane in the state. Whereas, the prices of diesel and electricity has been increasing. Aside from this, the pressure paying interest on loans taken by the farmers is also increasing. What should the farmer do if not commit suicide?" he asked, demanding a complete waiver of electricity bill and other dues of farmers.
According to the BKU, there are 16 sugar mills of the Bajaj group of Companies which have paid farmers till November 20, 2019. "The BJP claimed that full payment would be given in 14 days, but the sugar mills have closed down with payments worth thousands of crores due. The Bajaj factory paid farmers till November 20. It has still not paid farmers for more than five months,” he added.
Eight sugar mills in Muzaffarnagar district have been allowed to function during the lockdown due to COVID-19. Out of them, four have stopped procurement of sugarcane for this season, leading to the distress.
Meerut Farmers in Distress after Mills Shut Down
In the neighbouring district of Meerut, the situation of sugar cane farmers is precarious as well. Lakhs of sugar 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 the farmers.
Sugar mills of the Meerut division shut down without paying the cane farmers, and without any prior notice. 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.