Explained: Behind the infinite loop of farmer protests and govt promises to buy peacehttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chandigarh/explained-behind-the-infinite-loop-of-farmer-protests-and-govt-promises-to-buy-peace-5480542/

Explained: Behind the infinite loop of farmer protests and govt promises to buy peace

Over the past one year, Punjab has seen frequent run-ins between the government and the state's sugarcane farmers. The Indian Express explains the reasons behind the cycle of routine protests and unkept state promises.

Explained: Behind the infinite loop of farmer protests and govt promises to buy peace
Protesting farmers have been fighting to get their pending dues from last year’s sugarcane crushing season released. (File)

How many protests have been staged by sugarcane farmers in the past one year?

Nearly 12 protests, including six massive ones, have been organised by farmers in the past one year, which means one protest on an average every month. Almost every protest has ended with the government releasing some amount due to the farmers, and promising to release the rest soon.

What are the demands?

Protesting farmers have been fighting to get their pending dues from last year’s sugarcane crushing season released. They want the State Advised Price of Rs 310 per quintal to be increased. Farmers also want private mill owners to start stalled crushing operations without delay for this season, adding that the payment for the current season should be released within 14 days of cane’s delivery to the mill.

Why have the private mills not started crushing cane so far?

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Mills owners have said they are not ready to run their units till the time government agrees to pay the difference of Rs 35 between Fair Remunerative Price (FRP), which is Rs 275 per quintal cane, and State Advised rice (SAP), which is Rs 310 per quintal.

What assurances did government give farmers?

The state government has promised to release around Rs 102 crore with immediate effect and to release remaining, nearly Rs 280 crore, by January. The government also directed private mills to start crushing immediately, and has said that it will pay Rs 25 out of the Rs 35 difference between SAP and FRP. The mills will still have to pay the balance Rs 10 per quintal difference in price.

Why has the government repeatedly failed to deliver on its promises?

There are 16 sugar mills in Punjab — seven private and nine state-owned cooperative mills. But the capacity of seven private mills is around 32,000 TCD (tonnes crushed per day) against 15,766 TCD of state-owned cooperative mills. More than 70 per cent cane is crushed by the private millers in the state. Leveraging their crushing capacity, private mills have been lobbying hard against the SAP demand going through.

What is the argument given by private mills?

In Punjab, SAP — which is decided by the agriculture experts after analysing the input cost of the crop — is Rs 310 per quintal cane, while Centre government has decided an FRP of Rs 275 per quintal cane. Private millers argue that due to high fluctuation in sugar rates it costs them more than its market value. But government is not ready to buy this argument as it claims that private mills sell several by-products of cane to make profits.

What are the by-products that mills sell to earn revenue from cane crushing?

Apart from sugar, molasses, bagasse and pressed-mud are other by-products. Also, several private mills own co-generation plants and distilleries, which are run on the by-products of cane and earn them huge amount.

Can frequent run-ins between government and cane farmers be stopped?

Former board member of Bhogpur Sugar Mill, Paramjit Singh Sooch, argues that government can reduce its dependence on private mills by upgrading its own mills upto 5000 TCD by investing a few 100 crores. He adds that while all cooperative mills in Punjab have less than 2500 TCD capacity, upgrading them would make them economically viable and lead to windfall profits from crushing cane for government.

Why is sugarcane an important crop for Punjab?

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Cane is seen as a major alternative under the state’s crop diversification programme as it can generate huge employment and consumes less water. Punjab this year had 1.05 L hectares area under cane. Over 840 L quintals cane was crushed in 6 sugar mills last season, which was an all-time high. This year 20 per cent more production of cane is expected.

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