Demanding re-employment in the Budhlada sugar mill or their land back, farmers on Tuesday took their hunger strike here into 622nd day.
The land they had sold to the state government about 25 years ago for the construction of the mill has now gone to the Punjab urban planning and development authority (PUDA). Besides being former owners of the land, the protestors also are former employees of the decommissioned sugar mill.
They lost their jobs after the mill was closed in 1994. Now they are on indefinite protest outside the unit to get they promised livelihood back. Farmers are annoyed that the government decided to sell the mill's land to PUDA and didn't allowed its team to suvey the site and dispose of the factory's machines. In 1988, the government had acquired nearly 125 acres but, in October 1994, closed the sugar-production venture, leaving 397 employees (232 permanent and 165 temporary) jobless. Of these workers, 22 were from Mansa district.
Farmers claim that during acquisition, the government had agreed not to sell the land further for any other purpose. They want the sugar mill revived to generate employment in the region. "The government had also promised to employ the people whose land it had taken but it failed to keep its word," said Beant Singh Kainth, president of the Budhlada sugar mill workers' union. "The land is given to PUDA, which will dispose of the machinery worth crores of rupees."
A few months ago, the farmers had met chief minister Prakash Singh Badal. "The CM said: 'Kaka, ehna gallan nu chhaddo hun (Son, now forget this issue)'," said Kainth. "The government got our land for a very low price, and we gave it away in the confience of getting jobs," the mill union leader said
The mill's general manager, MP Singh said the land had been transferred to PUDA indeed but no project had started on it yet. "The issue with farmers will be resolved first," he said. "The machines in the factory will be disposed of."