Polls make bitter turn sweet: Mills forced to crush cane till polling

Kushinagar (Uttar Pradesh), May 19: The sugarcane crushing season may be long over but the mills in eastern Uttar Pradesh are being pressurized to keep crushing, lest the farming community gets upset and impacts the arithmetic in the polling that takes place on Sunday.

In the seventh and concluding phase of the Lok Sabha polls on Sunday, voting will take place in 13 constituencies in eastern Uttar Pradesh, which is crucial for ruling BJP in the state and the Centre.

Generally, millers prefer not to procure cane in summers as recovery rate -- amount of sugar from cane -- goes down.

However, four sugar mills in Hata, Ramkola, Kaptanganj and Khadda in Kushinagar and Siswa Bazar in Maharajganj are being made to crush cane even though the crop has gone dry.

The state government has issued a circular to mills across the state, making crushing mandatory until the entire cane produce is consumed, presumably keeping in view the defeat that the ruling BJP faced in the Kairana Lok Sabha bypoll in 2018.

It was said then that "Jinnah hara, ganna jeeta" - a reference to the cane arrears issue that prevailed over BJP's polarised politics.

Uttar Pradesh's Cane Minister Suresh Rana said the decision to continue crushing of sugarcane was taken in the farmers' interest.

"In such climate, recovery rate of cane reduces. But it is the commitment of the government to ensure entire cane crop is procured. So the government has issued strict directions to millers that crushing will have to be continued until there is cane in the farms," Rana told IANS.

Congress candidate from Kushinagar R.P.N. Singh said: "This is a ploy by the BJP government to fool the cane growers. They have asked the mills to continue crushing till the elections are over but the farmers are not getting indents for supplying cane. The mill owners express their inability and say they are helpless."

The cane growers are also not happy with this extended crushing season. Badri Prasad, a cane grower, explains: "If we supply cane at this time, it will have low weight due to lack of irrigation. There is no water in the canals and irrigation by diesel pump sets is an expensive proposition. It is better if we sell cane in the local market for juice."

Farmers who have supplied cane to the sugar mills are now wary that the mills will close down in two days, as soon as polling is over, and their payments would be delayed. They would have no option but to burn thousands of tonnes of their sugarcane crop or sell them at a very low price to the crushers.

Kushinagar was once known as the sugar capital of the country. Before Independence, the region had 23 sugar mills, but today there are only eight -- five in Kushinagar and one each in Deoria, Maharajganj and Gorakhpur. The sugar belt has shifted to western Uttar Pradesh where farmers are more organised and get better payment facilities.

According to the National Federation of Cooperative Sugar Factories (NFCSF), Uttar Pradesh has crushed 101.7 million tonnes of sugarcane and has produced 11.7 million tonnes of sugar till May 17.As many as 32 of total 119 mills in the state are still in operations.

Total production in the country in the sugar year 2018-19 starting October is expected to be 32.9 million tonnes.

With the highest recovery rate of 11.50 per cent in the country, total production in Uttar Pradesh is expected to be 11.8 million tonnes, followed by Maharashtra at 10.7 million tonnes.

Despite different efforts by the state government and Centre, which include last year's Rs 8,000 crore assistance package to the sugar sector, the cane arrears in the state have crossed Rs 10,000 crore.

If sources to be believed, farmers in the state are upset over pending dues of current year though the BJP government has been counting achievements of Narendra Modi government in providing relief to cane farmers.

"Cane arrears are certainly a big issue in the state. It seems the BJP wants to placate the farmers by buying all their produce, even if it is dry," said a source close to the development.

Rana is however confident of cane farmers' support to the BJP owing to "positive incumbency".

"We have cleared arrears worth Rs 65,000-70,000 crores so far. During the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party government, farmers' dues were held for five-six years," he said. 

IANS

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