Sugarcane farmers in Muzaffarnagar have alleged that the eight sugar mills in the district have been delaying payments totalling Rs 1,300 crore, a perennial problem of late clearance of dues that is this time hurting the cultivators even more because of the economic crisis perpetrated by the pandemic.
Preparing to protest while alleging that the state government was not mounting pressure on the mills to clear the farmers’ dues, Naresh Tikait, the leader of the powerful Bharatiya Kisan Union, said on Thursday that farmers in Muzaffarnagar had sold cane worth Rs 3,350 crore to the mills but received a total payment of Rs 2,050 crore so far.
Western Uttar Pradesh, where Muzaffarnagar is located, is home to over 70 per cent of the state’s 1 crore sugarcane farmers and the crop plays a major role in deciding political fortunes in the region. Muzaffarnagar is the largest cane-producing district of Uttar Pradesh.
Tikait said the delay in clearing the dues was affecting the farmers as cultivation was their only source of income.
“First of all, a large number of farmers couldn’t take their produce to the sugar mills in April and May because of the lockdown. On top of that, those who could, and also those who managed to eventually sell their produce, have received only 61 per cent of the payment. The farmers are waiting for the remaining 39 per cent for the past two months. Our demand to waive the electricity bills of the farmers was also ignored by the government,” the BKU leader told reporters in Muzaffarnagar.
The government, which is supposed to monitor that the farmers get their dues on time from the mills, said it was working to ensure that the payments were made soon.
R.D. Dwivedi, the district sugarcane officer, told reporters: “The sugar mills are making continuous payments to the farmers in the district. Payments of over Rs 2,000 crore have already been made during this crushing season in Muzaffarnagar. The local administration is mounting pressure on the mills to release the remaining dues soon.”
Chief minister Yogi Adityanath had said at a meeting last month that mills in Uttar Pradesh had paid over Rs 1 trillion to 47 lakh sugarcane growers in the past three years. He had also said the state’s mills had produced over 12.50 million tonnes of sugar by crushing more than 111 million tonnes of cane this season.
“Around Rs 5,953 crore has been paid to sugarcane farmers in the state in the current financial year,” Adityanath, a senior BJP leader, had said.
Sources, however, said delayed payment, and even part-payment and non-payment, of dues to cane farmers was a common problem in Uttar Pradesh.
This time the farmers’ woes have been exacerbated by the pandemic and the lockdown that have left them without much cash.
The sources said the mill owners faced no such crisis as the massive demand for alcohol-based sanitisers have boosted their business.