Uttar Pradesh— There have been continuous reports of protests by farmers against the delay in the payment of the sugarcane price in the state. Non-payment of the sugarcane price by sugar mills on time has been the main reason for the farmers' sit-in protest. While Uttar Pradesh has the distinction of being India's 'sugar bowl' for the highest sugarcane production and the highest sugarcane crushing in the country, the farmers of the state are now pulling back from cultivating it. Maharashtra has the second-highest production of sugarcane in the country.
There was a time when a total of 4 sugar mills — Rudhauli Athdama Bajaj Hindustan Sugar Mill, Basti Sugar Mill, Munderao Sugar Mill, Kaptanganj Sugar Mill — operated in Basti district of eastern UP. Another Babhanan sugar mill is also located between two districts — Basti and Gonda — where sugarcane slips of most farmers in Basti district come. As a result of the existence of so many sugar mills in a single district, the farmers of the district started using most of their agricultural holdings for sugarcane cultivation. But changing circumstances, changes in policies, politics on sugarcane farmers, and inflation have dampened the enthusiasm of the farmers. Due to which people have stopped sowing sugarcane in their fields.
Pradeep Chand Verma (52), a resident of Amrauli Shumali village in Saltua development block of Bhanpur tehsil, who has been cultivating sugarcane for almost 20 years, has been cultivating sugarcane on 8 bighas (4.9 acres). He started cultivating sugarcane with sowing on 16 bighas (9.9 acres). But with the passage of time, he reduced sugarcane cultivation by half. In November-December last, he had delivered the sugarcane to the mill, but he has not received the payment yet. "If the situation of non-payment of sugarcane on time and not getting proper rates continues, then sugarcane cultivation will have to be stopped further," Verma said. The farmer said that animals are also destroying sugarcane crops. This is making it difficult to cultivate sugarcane.
The opening of new mills and modernizing old mills was considered a historic step in the interest of farmers, given the 29 mills that were closed between 2007 and 2017 during the BSP and SP regime. At the same time, non-crushing of sugarcane price dues in sugar mills has already been a major issue. Before the Yogi government came to power in March 2017, arrears were a big problem. However, after coming to power, the Yogi government laid the most emphasis on the modernization of old mills and setting up of new mills along with timely payment. In this sequence, the capacity of about two dozen mills was increased. New state-of-the-art and high-capacity mills were set up at Pipraich in Gorakhpur, Munderao in Basti, and Ramala in Baghpat.
The state government made efforts to further increase the sweetness of sugarcane, but all the sugar mill operators reduced the attraction of farmers towards sugarcane cultivation by arbitrarily delaying payments. Ram Buzarat Maurya, 58, another farmer from Basti district, has been cultivating sugarcane on one-and-a-half acres (1.5 bighas) for a long time. Explaining the reason why farmers are less inclined towards sugarcane cultivation, he tells The Mooknayak, "There are problems here at the national and international levels. At the national level, the problems on the ground are non-payment by the sugar mill. Next to us was the Govind Nagar Sugar Mill, which closed after 4-5 years. About 55 crore is due to the farmers. If small sugar mills are not converted into sugar complexes, sugar institutions, then this problem will continue at the national level. At the international level, we see in Brazil that it produces a variety of products from sugarcane molasses, and sugarcane orchards, which are in demand globally. While we are an agricultural country, we are not able to adopt such new technology. We have sugar mills running with old technology. It is not possible to get rid of those old sugar mills (for the benefit of farmers)."
Maurya further explains, "The present government reduces and increases the rate of sugarcane only at the time of elections. This also disenchants farmers with sugarcane cultivation. If the central government and the state government assess the cost of sugarcane cultivation with a true mindset, then they will know what kind of challenge the farmer is facing. If this situation continues, farmers will give up sugarcane cultivation," he says. Today, the farmer is not able to provide education, medical treatment, and sustenance to his children with sugarcane income. Because these things have become very expensive in the market. While the price that the farmer gets for sugarcane is very low. The government should fix the price of sugarcane keeping in mind the cost incurred in preparing sugarcane per quintal from their research centers."
At present, farmers in eastern UP have fixed the price of early variety sugarcane at Rs 350 per quintal, normal variety sugarcane at Rs 340 per quintal. UP CM Yogi Adityanath had tweeted about the payment of sugarcane farmers in his first term. In which he wrote, "Old dues of sugarcane farmers should be paid within 15 days. However, the scenario is completely different in the present times.
In 2019, the Allahabad High Court had provided significant relief to sugarcane farmers of the state due to delays in payment. The court directed the Uttar Pradesh government to make full payment for sugarcane within 14 days of procurement under the government control order. If the payment is not made within the stipulated time, 15 per cent interest will be paid on it. However, despite this rule, farmers still have to resort to protests at sugar mills to receive their payments.
Kuldeep Chaudhary (44), a farmer from Village Panchayat Dandwa Bhaiya, owns a total of 5 acres of cultivable land, of which he currently cultivates sugarcane on 2 acres (about 6 bighas). Previously, he was cultivating sugarcane on about 4.5 acres (about 10 bighas) of land, but now he has reduced the sowing of sugarcane to just two crops — wheat and paddy.
"The biggest problem we farmers face is non-payment of cane price by sugar mills. Due to the lack of timely payment, we do not have capital, we do not have money to plant the next crop, we do not have money to pay the children's fees or other expenses. So we have to cultivate crops other than sugarcane," Kuldeep Chaudhary told The Mooknayak.
"Due to non-payment on time, our entire year's budget deteriorates. According to the cost price of sugarcane cultivation, the price of sugarcane is very low or minimal. If the price of sugarcane is increased to Rs 700 or Rs 750 per quintal, then the farmers will get some profit. The present sugar mill owners are not at all loyal to the farmers as compared to earlier," Kuldeep said, expressing dissatisfaction with the attitude of the present sugar mill owners towards the farmers.
Rajesh Mani Tripathi (54), a resident of village Peda in Rudhauli tehsil area of Basti district, owns a total of 16 bighas (9.9 acres) of farmland. Until 2011, he cultivated sugarcane on his 12 bighas (7.4 acres), but since 2011, he has not cultivated sugarcane till date. Now he sows only wheat and paddy in his entire cultivation. Tripathi, like all the above farmers, cites the delay in payment of sugarcane as the reason behind stopping sugarcane cultivation.
Rajesh, the farmer, told The Mooknayak, "Today, the cost of sugarcane cultivation has increased from labor to mill, weeding, and plowing, while even after putting so much capital, sugarcane price is not paid on time. For this reason, there was disillusionment with sugarcane cultivation. We spend the cost of preparing sugarcane throughout the year, and the millers don't pay for years. The farmers used the same money to settle marriages. With the payment of sugarcane, farmers used to get the money collected for their children's fees and healthcare. But now, due to the challenges we are facing, the farmer is retreating from cultivating sugarcane. I used to sow 12 bighas (7.4 acres) of sugarcane earlier, but have not planted a single sugarcane tree for almost 7 - 8 years now. Despite such a cost, the rate of sugarcane is very low. This stopped sugarcane cultivation."
"People are getting disillusioned with sugarcane cultivation, if this continues, then the distinction of 'sugar bowl' that UP has received today will be taken over by any other state. The government should clamp down on the mills so that farmers get timely payment for sugarcane. Some mills in the state are government-owned and some are private. Most of ours (Basti) are private. The arbitrariness of the mill management should stop," Rajesh said, pointing to the fields behind him, adding, "If this situation continues, we will never sow sugarcane. The field you see behind me is the only one in our village where a farmer is cultivating sugarcane alone. Apart from them, no other farmer in the village is sowing sugarcane."
Union Minister Piyush Goyal informed the Lok Sabha that the outstanding dues of sugar mills in the last five years were Rs 2,00,719.38 crore, out of which Rs 2,00,404.18 crore has been paid. However, sugar mills still owe Rs 300.2 crore, which the government has instructed to pay soon.
The sugarcane price is yet to be paid to farmers hailing from these districts — Basti, Maharajganj, Kushinagar, Baghpat, Gonda, Lakhimpur Kheri. In 2017-18, Rs 19.65 crore was not paid, while in 2020-21, Rs 8.92 crore dues were not paid to farmers in Maharajganj. In 2021-22, sugar mills in Kushinagar owe Rs 39.31 crore, Maharajganj Rs 7.47 crore, Baghpat Rs 139.78 crore, Gonda Rs 19.72 crore, and Lakhimpur Kheri Rs 80.35 crore.
The family of farmer Pramod Kumar Chaudhary (38) used to cultivate sugarcane in more than half of their total cultivation 4-5 years ago. Of the total 10 bighas (6.19 acres) of land, Pramod cultivated sugarcane in about 6 bighas (3.71 acres). The remaining 4 bighas were sown with paddy and wheat. "We are farmers, when we cultivated sugarcane, that decided our future. From that, our education, marriage, and other expenses were covered. Because sugarcane was our main source of income. But we stopped cultivating sugarcane ever since payments were delayed," Pramod said.
Pramod further explains, "Walterganj sugar mill has closed, and lakhs of rupees are lying in it. There is a big plight of sugarcane farmers in Basti district. That year, that's how we get paid. The wages involved in peeling and transporting sugarcane have to be paid immediately. Diesel money for irrigation has to be paid immediately. The price of diesel has reached the peak. The fertilizer which used to cost 50 kg has now been reduced to 45 kg. Despite all this, the payment is not being received on time."
Pawan Kumar Tripathi (41), a panman working in the Tulsipur unit of Balrampur Sugar Mill (BCM), has been working in the BCM Group's sugar mill for almost 16 years. According to Pawan, farmers in the Balrampur area tend to under-sow sugarcane due to unirrigated land (lack of adequate availability of irrigation). But all the farmers who cultivate sugarcane are paid for their sugarcane within a week. "We are not getting as much sugarcane for crushing as we used to. There are many reasons for this, such as increasing the number of factories and increasing the capacity of the factory. Due to the setting up of many factories, sugar mills in the same radius do not get the desired sugarcane for crushing. Even increasing the capacity of the factory does not get enough sugarcane from the farmers," Tripathi told The Mooknayak, adding that population growth was also the reason for the lack of sugarcane cultivation.
"Since the population is increasing, people are reducing sugarcane sowing, and they are paying more attention to paddy, wheat, and vegetable cultivation, which will be used to feed people," Pawan said.
During the conversation with The Mooknayak, Pawan Kumar Tripathi also informed that wherever Bajaj Group sugar mills have been set up in the state, sugarcane farmers are disappointed. "Farmers are not getting timely payment for sugarcane by Bajaj sugar mills. Farmers are getting payments after a delay of two years or months. While our group (BCM) pays the farmers on the seventh day."
To know the government's stand on the current problems of sugarcane farmers in Purvanchal, Uttar Pradesh, The Mooknayak has asked the Public Information Officer, Commissioner Sugarcane and Sugar, Additional Sugar Commissioner, and Additional Sugarcane Commissioner (Administration) of the Sugar Industry and Sugarcane Development Department, Uttar Pradesh. We tried to contact Lucknow but found the CUG numbers of the officials switched off. We have also emailed them on the matter. As soon as we receive any comment on the matter, it will be updated in the report.
Uttar Pradesh has been leading in sugarcane production in the entire country, earning it the distinction of being the 'sugar bowl'. For a long time, farmers in the state have been cultivating sugarcane in most of their arable fields. However, in the present circumstances, sugarcane farmers are feeling frustrated and disillusioned. According to the Sugar Industry and Sugarcane Development Department of Uttar Pradesh, a total of 118 sugar mills operated in the state during the crushing season 2022-23. Farmers still cultivate sugarcane in 28.53 lakh hectares, with a sugarcane productivity of 839 quintals per hectare, which is 16 quintals per hectare more than the previous year.
In May of this year, UP's Sugarcane Development and Sugar Mills Minister, Laxmi Narayan Chaudhary, had quoted the news agency PTI as saying, "UP is ahead of Maharashtra in terms of sugar production, among many other factors. The total sugar produced by Uttar Pradesh in the sugar season 2022-2023 is 107.29 lakh tonnes (including 3.05 lakh tonnes of Khandsari - sugar physically extracted from liquid molasses), while Maharashtra produced 105.30 lakh tonnes. Sugarcane production in UP has been 2,348 lakh tonnes, while in Maharashtra, it was 1,413 lakh tonnes. The total sugarcane crushing by sugar mills in UP in the 2022-2023 season was 1,084.57 lakh tonnes, while in Maharashtra, it was 1,053 lakh tonnes."
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