A double whammy for U.P. farmersSandeep Joshi
Delayed earning from cane, diminishing chances of sowing wheat this season
Sitting in a pensive mood outside Kisan Sewa Sahkari Samiti at village Dadthua in Meerut is Tilak Ram. He is mulling his farming options as he awaits his call from a nearby sugar mill to purchase his cane. It’s mid- December and the sugarcane crop of this retired teacher is still standing in his 26 bighas of land and the time for sowing wheat is almost over.
“I am in deep trouble. I am still to get ‘parchis’ (slips issued by sugar mills for purchase of cane), and till I get it, I cannot clear my fields for sowing wheat. There is no point in going for wheat cultivation during the harsh January winter when chances of crop survival are minimal. On one hand, we are not getting any money from sugar mills and on the other, there are high chances of losing one crop.” said Mr. Ram.
This is invariably the condition of all farmers in this fertile sugarcane belt covering Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Shamli, Baghpat and Saharanpur. Thousands of acres of land across the region are covered with sugarcane crop. After long negotiations between the Uttar Pradesh Government, mill owners and farmers, it was decided to retain cane prices at previous year’s level of Rs.280 per quintal against the Bharatiya Kisan Union and other farmer groups’ demand of Rs.301 as being paid to farmers in Haryana. This led to delay in opening of sugar mills by almost two months.
However, farmers are more concerned about their last year’s arrears that stand at over Rs.2,000 crore in the State. “Sugar mills have to still pay me Rs.72,000 for my last year’s produce. There are hundreds of farmers in my tehsil whose dues vary from a few thousands to lakhs, but instead of pressuring mill owners to pay our dues, we are being told to be patient…We have never seen such an anti-farmer government,” said Amarpal Singh of Bhuvakpur village in Muzaffarnagar.
Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait rues that the government has left the farmer in lurch and was least bothered about its problems. “The U.P. Government is hand in glove with powerful lobby of sugarcane mill owners, and it is the poor farmer who is at the receiving end.” Lambasting the Centre for its “faulty policies”, Mr. Tikait said the government was focused just on sugar production without realising that decline in wheat production would make flour costlier and lead to rise in inflation.
Another important aspect of late opening of sugar mills is the exploitation of small farmers by ‘kolhu’ operators who produce jaggery. “Against the cane price of Rs.280 per quintal, these players are giving farmers just Rs.170. As farmer is concerned about his next crop, he has no option but to fall in the trap of ‘kolhu’ owners. It is a double whammy for the farmer – his earning from cane is being delayed, while chances of sowing wheat this season is also diminishing fast,” said Shandar Gufran, a social activist and educationist.