In Uttar Pradesh's Baghpat district, Rahul, a 32-year-old sugarcane farmer, killed himself because he could not afford to treat his younger sister who was diagnosed with cancer and the doctor had suggested a surgery. The local sugar mill owed the household about Rs 3 lakh, which was not paid at a time when the family needed it the most. Rahul's suicide was the trigger that compounded the fury and anger of sugarcane farmers from across the state. The farmers united under the banner of 'Indian Farmer Union' and held protests at various places.
The mill administration cleared Rahul's outstanding payments after he committed suicide. However, Rahul's elder brother refused to accept the money and said, "Are you going to clear the payments of only those who die? We don't want your money, we just want our brother back."
Similar stories were reported from other nearby villages. Ramvir's family in Tikri village also got the outstanding payment after he committed suicide. Similarly, sugarcane farmer Sahdev, who attempted suicide in Chhaproli, got the outstanding sugarcane payment immediately after the incident.
The question arises whether only those who commit suicide will get their outstanding payments cleared. Although these were the stories of different incidents and households suffering from non-payment of dues, but when one sees a locked down sugar mill and a standing crop just about to rot, even in cane minister Suresh Rana's home district, one can't really predict how much longer before the next farmer commits suicide. News18 Hindi, ran a special investigation on how farmers who sow sugarcane bracing harsh winters, also have to sweat hard in 45 degrees heat on the road just to get their due payments from Uttar Pradesh's sugar mills.
A paper chit defines the fate of farmers
After farmers prepare the sugarcane crop, it's time to take it to the sugar mills. But according to rules, farmers haves to take a slip from the sugarcane cooperative society in order to sell the sugarcane to the mill. A farmer can sell up to 25-30 quintals of cane to a single mill on one slip. On failing to obtain the slip, the farmer will not be able to sell the sugarcane to the mill. Moreover, another benefit of selling the crop on the basis of the slip is that the farmer will receive the rate decided by the government for his crop. Thus, those who don't have a slip will have to sell their crops in the open market, at a price that is less than the rate fixed by the government. Even today, sugarcane mills owe an outstanding payment of over Rs 13,367 crores to the farmers, but the government is ignorant to the woes of the farmers.
Scam of the slips?
Sugarcane farmer Ashu, who lives in Sohanta Rasulpur village in the Thana Bhawan area, said the slips are usually distributed by society members to their own people. Even such people get a slip from the committee, who do not even have land to grow sugarcane.
At the same time, Zahid Massab, who lives in the same village, pointed out that the sugar mill in the area was shut on 13 April while crops still stood unharvested on acres of fields.
BJP minister blames group of mill owners
The Uttar Pradesh government said that sugarcane farmers should be paid their dues within 14 days but that is far from reality. Farmers are still struggling to get their dues from January cleared. When asked about this, Satyapal Singh, BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh and Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development, said there are groups of sugar mill owners who operate like a gang of the previous governments. "But our government has said that the farmers should be paid before the end of sugarcane season. A joint bank account of sugarcane officers and mills will be opened and the farmers will be paid from this account first. In case of a delay in payment, the farmer will be given interest on their money," he said.
Samajwadi Party leader says slip system functions on jugaad
Samajwadi Party MLC Rajpal Kashyap said, "The farmers who do not get the slip for the mill are forced to sell sugarcane in the open market. And those who get the slip through jugaad take advantage of this and sell the farmers' crop at a lower price than the rates decided by the government. The state government is doing nothing to stop this. And thousands of farmers are still waiting for their payments."
Sugar mills in state owe Rs 13,367 crore
Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Jayant Chaudhary said that till 18 May, private and government-owned sugar mills collectively owed Rs 13,367 crore to the farmers. "Now the time to shut the cane mills for the season is also approaching but still farmers are yet to be compensated for their produce. The farmers are being forced to commit suicide," he added.
In Thana Bhawan, the crop is yet unharvested but the sugarcane mill in the area has been closed for the season. Reacting to this, sugarcane minister Rana said, "Our government has promised that till the time crop stands unharvested in fields, we will not allow the sugarcane mills to close down. If this situation arises in any particular area then we will arrange for the crops to be sent to another mill."
This article first appeared on News18 Hindi