Sugar cane politics leaves bitter taste among farmers

Sugar cane politics leaves bitter taste among farmers

 Western Uttar Pradesh’s sugar cane belt, that stretches from Delhi’s satellite town of Ghaziabad and goes up to Pilibhit, is harvesting the sweet produce at a time when politicians are busy exploiting the crop issue in the Assembly polls.

Like the cash-rich crop harvested once a year, sugar cane-associated problems are also dealt with seasonally by political parties — every five years around the time of elections — or when farmers take to agitation.

In their individual bid to reach out to the agrarian community ahead of first two phases of polling in this region, which will be held on February 11 and 15, the BJP, Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance, BSP and RLD were quick to promise timely clearance of pending payments of sugar cane farmers.

But, the assurances fail to enthuse lakhs of farmers, who cultivate the crop in 33 districts of the highest sugar cane producing state of the country.

“We are not getting anything from the government,” lamented Pradeep Sharma, wearing mud-stained clothes and armed with sickles along with his wife Kamlesh and others in the family’s lush green standing sugar cane in a Kurali village field adjacent to Meerut-Baghpat road.

Owner of 26 bigha of agricultural land, Sharma narrated to DH that he is living on borrowed means. We have no money after selling the crop for the last two years, making it difficult to run the family.

Adding to his litany of woes are shortage of labour and lurking uncertainty due to communal tension in surrounding areas of his village.

The farmers get Rs 300 per quintal of crop sold in the market. Only distance separates Sharma from other farmers like Rupender Tomar in Badhot and Tanveer Alam in Saharanpur but their worries are similar and constant in the last three years.

Their gloomy story gets supplemented by the National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO’s) 70th round survey conducted during July 2012 –June 2013. It showed that the total income of an agricultural household per month was Rs 6,426. But, the total expenditure was Rs 9,502.

That meant that each month a household, including that of farmers, is accumulating debts of little over Rs 3,000.

Farmers have a feeling that the governments at the centre and in state have been offering packages to bail out factories but not to tillers of the crop. For the year 2016-17, sugar mills owe more than Rs 5,000 crore to farmers. Previous years’ dues of nearly Rs 360 crore also remain as Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself had stated in Meerut on February 4 that his government had fulfilled party’s 2014 Lok Sabha election promise to farmers by releasing Rs 22,000 crore which was 99% of the amount pending for 2014-15.

RLD state general secretary Rajendra Singh Chikara is of the view that farmers are distressed due to prevailing situations. “They are losing interest in farming since they are not getting instant money for their produce which is a perishable item.”

There are 116 sugar mills operating in the state which account for over 40% of the total production of the crop in the country.

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