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Published on: Jan. 24, 2022, 4 p.m.
Strong arm in UP
  • Sugar mills in UP have become a collateral victim of BJP

By Rakesh Joshi. Executive Editor, Business India

Sugar mills have become a collateral victim of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s attempts to politically retain the sugar belt of western Uttar Pradesh in the coming assembly election. The Yogi government has been cracking down on sugar mills which have delayed payment of dues of farmers, hoping this will help the party retain the support of the sullen farmers. 

In UP, around 45 lakh sugarcane growers supply their produce to these 119 mills. On an average, at least 40,000 farmers are associated with each mill. They form an important vote-bank for any party. 

In the western part of the state, most of the sugarcane farmers were associated with widespread protests against the three farm laws. The region is very crucial for the BJP for achieving the target of winning more than 300 seats out of total 403 again. However, the party faces an uphill task of repeating its performance of the last assembly election of winning 53 out of 58 constituencies in western UP where polling will be held in the first phase on 10 February. In the first phase, polling will be held in assembly seats in Shamli, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Hapur, Gautam Budh Nagar, Ghaziabad, Bulandshahr, Mathura, Agra and Aligarh districts. This is the verdant farm belt that overlaps the national capital region.

Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister defending the BJP’s bastion of UP, is fond of narrating how during the first spell of Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the sugar industry came to a grinding halt in Brazil, which is the biggest sugar producer in the world. More than half of the sugar mills in Maharashtra and many mills in Karnataka were also closed down. But the state’s 119 mills, both cooperative and private, kept the sugar industry’s flag flying. The cane crushing season 2020-21 saw the state’s sugar mills producing, besides sugar, a large quantity of sanitiser and ethanol used for blending with petrol.

However, in September that year, the Modi government rolled out the farm reforms which did not go down well with the sugarcane farmers. To defuse the simmering discontent there, the state government announced a hike of Rs25 per quintal in state advisory price (SAP) for sugarcane for the current season 2021-22. But the sugarcane farmers were not impressed by the hike as this was the only hike in the last four seasons of sugarcane during the tenure of Yogi Adityanath government.   Varun Gandhi, the rebel Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Pilibhit, was among those who took up the cause of the sugarcane farmers, demanding the SAP at Rs400 per quintal.

Recently, in view of the approaching assembly elections, there was talk of the Yogi Adityanath government giving a special bonus of Rs10 per quintal to sugarcane farmers. However, there has been no such announcement. 

All opposition parties, including the Samajwadi Party, Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party, have given priority to the issues related to farmers, while the ruling BJP claims that the government has done several important works for the development of the region. The BJP is highlighting in its campaign the proposed international airport in Noida, ending migration from Kairana and the development of the region, along with clearing dues of sugarcane farmers.

District cane officers have been instructed to file FIRs against erring sugar mills. After booking the management of a sugar mill in Lakhimpur Kheri on charges of “financial exploitation” of cane farmers recently, FIRs have been lodged against at least five other mills in UP for not paying farmers their dues despite directions by the government. While three cases were lodged against mills in Shamli, another was lodged in neighbouring Baghpat district in west UP. This was the site of farmers’ protests against the three farm laws and for a guaranteed minimum support price law as well as pending cane payments. A second FIR was lodged in Lakhimpur Kheri, the district in the Terai often dubbed the “sugar bowl”. Recently, while touring the area, Yogi Adityanath criticized the defaulting sugar mills, saying that   that at least 20 private sugar mills were still defaulting on payment of dues and arrears to sugarcane growers.

Sanjay R. Bhoosreddy, Cane and Sugar Commissioner, UP, says cane price payment was the top priority of the government. “Regular monitoring is being done at regional and headquarters level of the same and regional & district cane officers have been directed to take strictest action against the negligent sugar mills in payment,” he said. If the mills do not show the required speed in making the payments, then action will be ensured against them, he said.“Re-allocation of cane area of defaulter sugar mills can also be considered and issuing recovery certificate and FIR can be lodged against such sugar mills.” 

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