The verbal dual that took place in the state assembly between revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia and Congress MLA Rana Gurjit Singh in the last session in December seems to have spilled out into the open with the Congress legislator accusing the Youth Akali Dal (YAD) chief of targeting his sugar mill in an attempt to harm his business and financial prospects.
The immediate cause of provocation for the Kapurthala MLA was the blockade by a group of 30-odd persons on a road which is used by farmers for transporting sugarcane in tractor-trolleys to the cane yard of Rana Sugars Ltd in Buttar village, off the Rayya-Batala road in Amritsar district. The blockade led to a traffic jam on the Rayya-Mehta road with tractor-trolleys loaded with sugarcane stranded on the roadside.
"This is a clear case of political vendetta. Majithia has not forgotten the incident in the assembly and has chosen my sugar mill to take revenge on me, forgetting that I am not the one who will take things lying down," Rana said while showing a recording of the blockade on a laptop, which an employee of Rana Sugars had filmed.
Speaking about the blockade, Rana, who had established the mill in 1991, told mediapersons here on Friday that at around 3 pm on Thursday, 20-30 persons, most of them youngsters, put up a tent on the link road that connects Buttar village and the mill to the Rayya-Batala highway. The location of the tent was such that it also blocked an alternative route along a drain to the mill premises.
Veer Pratap Singh, son of Rana Gurjit and managing director of the mill, said the mill employees dismantled a portion of the boundary wall of the cane yard to clear the long line of sugarcane-loaded tractor-trolleys. This was done as farmers had started getting impatient and the mill functionaries did not want to be blamed for any unsavoury incident that could have happened under such adverse circumstances," Veer Partap said.
Congress leaders Sukhjinder Raj Singh Lalli Majithia, who was also present, claimed that none of those involved in the blockade were cane growers. Barring six to seven youths, the rest were from other villages and they had been ferried to Buttar specifically for the blockade, he said.
"I spoke to the deputy commissioner, the Amritsar rural SSP, the DSP and the Mehta SHO, but none of them did anything to remove the blockade. On the contrary, some junior-level police officers openly told us that the police would do nothing as the orders had come directly from Majithia," Rana claimed.
The Congress leader pointed out that he had come all the way from Uttarakhand to set up this venture in 1991 when terrorism was at its peak. He said his mill, with a 5,000-TCD (tonnes crushing daily) capacity, had changed the economic scenario of the area and was catering to the cane growers of the Majha belt, parts of Doaba and even some areas of the Malwa region. "The unit has provided direct employment to 1,000-1,500 persons. If this is how the state government treats industrialists, no one is going to invest in Punjab. The government talks of diversification and here they want to shut down a successful agro unit which gives payment to farmers on the spot. Of the 15 government sugar mills, seven have shut down as the government has no policy to run these and finds it more profitable to sell these to private players of their choice," said Rana, maintaining that the incident was a law and order problem and the chief minister should also take note of it.
Pointing out that the Majithia family too had a sugar mill in Uttar Pradesh, Rana said, "My mill is running well, but Majithia's has shut down. Like Majithia, I also know the reasons for its closure."
Agitators raise no anti-govt slogans
Those responsible for the blockade did not raise any slogans against the government, though one of their demands was that the 2-km stretch from the Batala-Rayya highway to Buttar be repaired. They hold the mill owners responsible for the bad state of the road as vehicles carrying sugarcane are responsible for its wear and tear.
Referring to this demand, Rana said the 18-foot-wide road had been repaired a number of times by Rana Sugars, though it was basically the duty of the government. "I am glad that at least Majithia has brought to the notice of his government the state of link roads in the state," he said.
Another grouse of the agitators was that the mill caused pollution as waste material often seeped into the adjoining fields. They also alleged that the cane growers were not being paid the due price for their produce, a charge which the mill MD refuted.
I'm not into petty politics: Majithia
Bikram Singh Majithia denied his hand in the entire incident and said that he had nothing personal against Rana.
"I am not a revengeful person. What I have learned is that farmers of the area had some problems regarding payments and there was also the issue of pollution. I suggest that Rana sits down with those having grievances and solves their problems," he said.
Pointing out that he had been away from the Majha area for a long time, Majithia said that first he was in Delhi for the DSGMC polls and then he was in Moga for the bypoll. "So, the question of my involvement does not arise. I do not believe in such petty politics. I can understand Rana's plight as first he lost the Khadoor Sahib Lok Sabha poll and then could not become a minister as the Congress lost the assembly polls last year. Now his dream of becoming the Punjab Congress chief has been shattered after the defeat of his party in the Moga bypoll, of which he was incharge," the minister said.
'Police got the blockade lifted'
Amritsar rural SSP PS Virk claimed that when the problem was brought to his notice, a DSP-level officer was sent to the spot. "We got the blockade lifted late in the night, and now everything is normal," he said, denying Rana's charge that the police did not act.