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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

9 months on, sugarcane farmers still agitating for Rs5.8 cr in dues

Tired of protesting over payment of dues, farmers are increasingly turning to paddy

chandigarh Updated: Oct 23, 2019 23:14 IST
Avtar Singh
Avtar Singh
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh

Three generations of sugarcane cultivators of Dhuri area of the district have been growing sugarcane since the 1950s. However, delay in the clearance of pending dues has compelled farmers to return to paddy and wheat. As many as 140 farmers are still agitating for the clearance of dues to the tune of Rs5.88 crore from Bhagwanpura Sugar Mills, Dhuri.

Four sugarcane growers —41-year-old Harjit Singh, 40-year-old Bhawan Singh, 52-year-old Nirbhay Singh and 54-year-old Bahadur Singh —have started an indefinite hunger strike on the boiler of the mill which entered its second day on Wednesday. However, others are protesting inside the mill.

In February 2019, sugarcane cultivators had started an agitation for the clearance of Rs99.80 crore of the current season and Rs27 crore of the previous year. The farmers accused the state government and sugar mill owners to be hand in glove.

“The owners are gaining interest on the amount and the state is protecting them.Our agitation compelled authorities to release dues, at a time when about 20 farmers threatened to end their lives due to an economic crisis,” said Avtar Singh Bhullarheri, a farmer.

Among those on an indefinite hunger strike, Bhawan Singh was growing sugarcane on 42 acres land till the previous season. Now, he said he will cultivate cane only on 2 acres. “My dues of Rs40 lakh and Rs5 lakh are pending with the mill. I have leased land at the rate of Rs55,000 per acre. If I continue growing cane, I would be inviting death,” Bhawan said.

Similarly, Harjit Singh, who is growing sugarcane on 43 acres is awaiting Rs7 lakh in dues. He too, has given up cane. He said sugarcane is environment friendly, but they are left with no option but to grow paddy for which farmers get money within 24 hours.

Sources in the district agriculture department said farmers of the region had cultivated sugarcane on 3,462 hectares in Sangrur in 2018-2019. Now, the crop is expected to be grown only on 2,000 hectare in district in 2019-2020. Even the Dhuri sugarmill area that witnessed protests over pending dues will see more than 50% drop in sugarcane crop. “We will urge farmers to adopt alternative crops such as cotton and maize,” said Jaswinderpal Singh, chief agriculture officer.

Meanwhile, Jaswant Singh Sandhu, GM Bhagwanpura mill, said that sugarcane cultivators will get their dues at the earliest. “Farmers and mills are inter-dependant and their concerns will be addressed soon,” he added.