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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

Muzaffarnagar eager to win back its ‘gur’ image

Muzaffarnagar was once renowned for housing Asia’s biggest ‘Gur Mandi’ (jaggary market), about which traders and local residents boast till today.

lucknow Updated: Oct 08, 2019 06:22 IST
S Raju
S Raju
Hindustan Times, Muzaffarnagar
Farmer Yogesh Siwach and his son Shivam showing packets of 'gur' they prepare for different companies.
Farmer Yogesh Siwach and his son Shivam showing packets of 'gur' they prepare for different companies. (HT Photo )
         

Excitement was palpable in the district when the Uttar Pradesh government declared jaggery as Muzaffarnagar’s indigenous and specialised product under the ‘one district one product’ (ODOP) scheme. And why not? Muzaffarnagar was once renowned for housing Asia’s biggest ‘Gur Mandi’ (jaggary market), about which traders and local residents boast till today.

Hopes of the farming community as well as the administrative officials also went up, as they thought that the ODOP scheme would not only help revive but also strengthen the economy of the district that has traditionally relied on sugarcane and its by-products, including jaggery.

Tanvir Alam, stenographer at the office of the district cane officer, says, “Gur is our identity. It is all about the local people’s affection for jaggery. The ‘gur’ of Muzaffarnagar is still in high demand – not just in the country but even among Indians residing abroad.”

He says the excitement of administrative officials, individuals and institutions who have been involved in various initiatives to revive the “lost glory of Muzaffarnagar gur” has been high ever since the ODOP scheme was announced. “It will play a vital role in strengthening the economy of rural Muzaffarnagar,” says Alam.

SHRUGGING OFF ‘CRIME DISTRICT’ TAG

Officials are hoping that under the ODOP scheme, they will be able to give Muzaffarnagar a new and clean image -- one far away from that of a ‘crime-ridden district’.

Additional district magistrate (enforcement), Amit Singh, who has been coordinating the ODOP scheme, has been working on multiple fronts to increase the popularity of ‘Muzaffarnagar gur’. “We are working on improving the jaggery’s quality by taking care of the hygiene issue and searching for new marketing opportunities. We are also encouraging local industrialists and traders to associate with the scheme to ensure its success. The state government too is extending its full support to us to achieve this goal,” he says.

MASS MOVEMENT FOR ‘ORGANIC GUR’

Many locals, including Tanvir Alam, believe that overuse of chemicals while processing jaggery to get ‘good-looking gur’ had compromised the quality. Traders say that sodium hydrosulphite, used to give ‘gur’ a bright colour and attract buyers, reduces both quality and taste.

Yogesh Siwach, a farmer and ‘gur’ producer in village Girdharpur Garwara, says, “Time is changing now. People are more aware about the disadvantages of using chemicals in processing. Many ‘gur’ producers are making the product without using chemicals.”

Brijveer Singh of Morna town says he grows organic sugarcane and processes it to make ‘organic gur’.

Rakesh Kumar of village Behra Sadat and Kaluram of village Kamhera are other farmers who are now growing organic sugarcane.

Secretary of the ‘Mandi Samiti’, Rakesh Singh, lauds these farmers’ efforts in increasing the quality of the ‘gur’ produced in the district. “Their efforts bode well for the revival of our local ‘gur’ industry. Minimising the use of chemicals in processing or making the ‘gur’ completely chemical-free increases opportunities of marketing it through online retail giants such as Amazon,” he says.

He, however, adds that praiseworthy as these efforts are, they are still on individual basis. “We need to organise them to make this a mass movement for reviving our local ‘gur’ industry,” says Singh.

GUR KOLHUS – MODERN VS TRADITIONAL

A survey of the cane department reveals that the district has 672 registered ‘kolhus’ (jaggery processing units). However, farmers and ‘gur’ producers claim the number is much higher – over 1,000. They say that hundreds of units are unregistered and available on hire.

Banwari Lal, additional commissioner of industries, says, “We are introducing modern ‘kolhus’ to replace traditional ones. They are more hygienic and produce better quality ‘gur’ with a prescribed limit of 8% humidity. Modern ‘kolhus’ are also less polluting and extract more juice when compared to traditional ones.”

Lal’s colleague, Rajendra Kumar, additional statistical officer, explains, “The state government is providing attractive subsidy on the project. So far, five modern ‘kolhus’ have been sanctioned and the banks released funds in the previous financial year. The department has received 15 applications for setting up modern ‘kolhus’ and 36 for trading in the current financial year. All applications for modern ‘kolhus’ have been forwarded to banks.”

He says this is the first time that banks are releasing finances for setting up ‘kolhus’. “We are also focusing on setting up packaging units so that ‘gur’ is available in attractive packets of different weights,” says Kumar, adding, “The Indian Institute of Sugarcane Research in Lucknow is providing the design and technology for establishing the modern ‘kolhus’. A delegation of 25 farmers has already visited the institute to learn about these new machines.”

DIGITISING THE INDUSTRY

ADM Amit Singh says that the plan is to make all the data of the local ‘gur’ industry available digitally. “It should be on a website so that buyers interested in ‘Muzaffarnagar gur’ can get access to authentic producers and finalise their deals without middlemen,” he says.

Singh says that as part of the district administration’s ongoing efforts to connect people with the scheme, ‘Udyam Samagam Evam ODOP (‘Gur Utpaad’) Pradarshini’ and ‘Gur Mahotsav’ had been organised at the Sriram Degree College.

‘MAKE SCHEME PEOPLE-FRIENDLY’

Despite the high enthusiasm, farmers and ‘gur’ producers have concerns. Some of them say that the administration’s efforts will be fruitful only if the scheme is made ‘people-friendly’ and a more pragmatic approach is adopted.

“Officials are talking about the good things but the on-ground situation is different,” says a farmer, raising a question over setting up of modern ‘kolhus. “How effective can this be when a majority of people are running ‘kolhus’ on hiring basis? (With modern ‘kolhus’) they now need to spend on hiring land, the ‘kolhu’, as well as on electricity. This makes it non-profitable for them,” he adds.

Mehtab of village Garhwara in Bhopa area, who had a family business of ‘kolhus’ for years, says he chose to work as a driver this year. “It it is no more a profitable business. The cost incurred in producing ‘gur’ has increased manifold, while the wholesale price has remained between Rs 25 and Rs 30 in the past four years. How can we survive like this?” he asks.

Illegal trading is another challenge, says Sanjay Mittal, president of the district’s ‘Gur and Khandsari Association’. “Gur traders need to pay 2.5% tax to the ‘mandi’ as fee for trading. To save this money, illegal trading is done that deprives the state government of revenue,” says Mittal, claiming that he has raised the issue several times with the authorities but nothing has happened.

“Illegal trading is going on unabated. Till a few years ago, 60,000 to 70,000 bags of jaggery used to arrive at the ‘mandi’ every month. This has been reduced to just 5,000 to 7,000 now,” he claims.

Dr Banwari Lal also rues the lack of laboratory testing to ensure that the ‘gur’ produced is of high quality. “We need it for ethical promotion of the product. This is essential to revive the glory of ‘Muzaffarnagar gur’ and the city as the ‘Number 1 Gur Mandi’ in Asia,” he says.

PRAISEWORTHY STEPS

Meanwhile, some individual farmers of the district are setting an example for others by ensuring that their products are of high quality and packaged well in different sizes, as required by the market.

Among them are Yogesh Siwach of village Garhwara of Bhopa area, who has emerged as a model for other farmers and ‘gur’ producers. Talking about his association with the Bharatiya Kisan Union ( BKU), Yogesh says he has long struggled for the cause of cane growers getting their pending payments. “I have always looked at ways to do something different to solve this long-standing problem of sugarcane farmers,” he says.

“BKU leader Rakesh Tikait supported me and helped me establish my modified ‘kolhu’ in the village. In it, iron vessels (in which cane juice is boiled) have been replaced with steel ones. These are connected to the cane crushing area with steel pipes. So, juice flows directly into these vessels. In traditional ‘kolhus’, it passes through an open drain, which is not hygienic. I have also replaced the stone plate used for final processing of ‘gur’ with a steel one. In addition, I have a lab where temperature and humidity of the product is maintained as per the required standards,” says Yogesh.

He has also set up a packaging unit and claims to be the first to have introduced 5g sachets of jaggery powder. “I also pack ‘gur’ in 400g and 1kg packets and supply them to different companies. Some of my products are also exported. I have introduced different varieties and flavours too, such as ‘gur’ with ‘elaichi’ (cardamom), with ‘sonth’ (dry gourd), with ‘nariyal’ (coconut) and with dry fruits,” says Yogesh.

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BOXES

FACTS AND FIGURES

Muzaffarnagar is the third largest sugarcane growing district of UP. It is preceded by Lakhimpur Kheri and Bijnor.

It has:

9 sugar mills

1.47 lakh hectare area of cane cultivation

9.13 crore quintal of cane crushed in the season

1.9 lakh quintal sugar produced

672 registered traditional ‘kolhus’ (as per a survey of the cane department)

3 ‘mandis’ in the district – at Muzaffarnagar, Khatauli and Shahpur

8 lakh quintal ‘gur’ was received by the Muzaffarnagar ‘mandi’ this year

(Source -- cane department)

INTERESTING TIDBITS

Officials said that efforts were underway to sell sugarcane juice in tetra-packs and to introduce sachets of jaggery powder and ‘gur’ sweetmeats on trains.

District magistrate Selva Kumari J has suggested allocating an exclusive space at the ‘mandi’ for promoting sale and purchase of ‘organic gur’. Officials say the idea is still at a nascent stage and a feasibility report is being prepared.

Illegal trading of ‘gur’ is a major challenge before authorities. ‘Gur’ producers need to pay 2.5% fees to the ‘mandi’ to sell their products there. So, a number of traders finalise their deals out of the ‘mandi’, supplying their products across the country. It results in a huge revenue loss to the state government.

TRADITIONAL ‘KOLHUS’ IN TROUBLE

The district has over 1,000 traditional ‘kolhus’ (both registered and unregistered) that are used for processing jaggery from cane juice. Local traders manufacture these ‘kolhus’, which they then rent out to ‘gur’ producers – primarily marginal farmers.

However, in the last four year, high expenses and stagnation in ‘gur’ prices have resulted in many of these farmers opting out of renting ‘kolhus’. “The land required to set up a ‘kolhu’ is around 5-6 beeghas and rent for taking a ‘kolhu’ for one season (six months) is Rs 1 lakh. Then, there are other expenses – electricity, fees of labourers (Rs 10,000 each) and the jaggery maker (Rs 15,000). This is why, this year, I decided to work as a driver instead of producing ‘gur’,” says a local ‘gur’ producer, Mehtab.

He says that the low profits in the business are causing many producers to reduce the quality of their products, leading to adulteration in jaggery.