The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sugarcane unites bitter UP allies

New Delhi, April 27: Sugarcane appeared to have sweetened the somewhat bitter relations of Uttar Pradesh allies, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the BJP, when chief minister Mayavati met the Prime Minister for a meeting here today.

The high-level meeting decided to set up a committee, comprising Central and state ministers, to review the issue of fixing a statutory minimum price for sugarcane farmers.

The 90-minute meeting at Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s home brought together, in a rare show of solidarity, the state representatives of the BSP and the BJP.

From Mayavati to BJP’s Kalraj Mishra, Lalji Tandon and Vinay Katiyar, sugarcane minister Premlata Katiyar and Ghaziabad MP R.C. Tomar, all impressed on Vajpayee the need to empower states to fix the statutory price. This, they said, would “ensure that the interest of poor farmers is not hurt by sugarmill owners”.

The crux of the problem was the state’s 52 private sugarmills paying a statutory minimum price of Rs 69.50 per quintal for sugarcane procurement — as followed by the Centre — despite Uttar Pradesh fixing the rate at Rs 95-100 per quintal. Only 49 state sector sugarmills followed the state government’s rate.

“I told the Prime Minister that every state government should get the right to fix the SMP,” Mayavati said. “Then the private mill owners will not dare to hurt the interests of farmers. Within a month (of the Centre’s nod), I will make them dance. It is for the Centre to decide.”

As the issue of the statutory price is being heard in the Supreme Court, the Centre set up a committee comprising ministers Arun Jaitley, Sharad Yadav and Ajit Singh, Mayavati and Katiyar to look into it.

The issue, however, appeared to have the makings of a controversy when Yadav, also present at the meeting, told reporters “New Delhi has been fixing the SMP traditionally and conventionally, and states are free to fix their own prices”.

“An attempt is being made to break that mechanism and we will not allow that,” he said.

Later, Yadav played safe and said: “It (allowing states to fix the price) is a tedious process which may take more than a year. Our immediate priority is to provide remunerative prices to farmers this year.”

He appeared to have backtracked on remembering that he had contested elections in the past from the sugarcane belt of western Uttar Pradesh when the going got sticky in his turfs of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.

Ajit Singh, from western Uttar Pradesh, appeared to be in a dilemma over pandering to his constituency in Baghpat and being party to the Centre’s decision.

The government, he said, was “committed” to ensuring that last year’s statutory price of Rs 95 a quintal was enforced.

Ajit’s Rashtriya Lok Dal is a member of the state coalition.

State sources said “the UP government has enough scope to armtwist them (private mills) by way of sugar levy, molasses decontrol and disbursement of modernisation funds for ailing mills”.

With Vajpayee and his deputy, L.K. Advani, intervening in the matter, there was “no way” the private mill owners could get away with their “idiosyncrasies”, they said.

The meeting, however, steered clear of political problems concerning the state alliance. Mayavati was scheduled to meet Advani privately today to talk on seat sharing for next year’s general polls. But it was called off, BJP sources said.

Midway through the meeting, Advani left for Jaipur to flag off a BJP “Parivartan Yatra”.

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