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Talks between farmers, govt over sugarcane prices hit a deadlock; blockade continues

The farmers had on Friday had launched an agitation demanding that the Punjab government raise the state assured price (SAP) of sugarcane to bring it at par with Haryana where it is Rs 358 per quintal.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar |
August 23, 2021 6:48:08 am
Farmers have blocked rail tracks and a national highway in Jalandhar since Friday , leading to major disruptions in rail and road traffic. (Express photo)

THE DEADLOCK over a hike in sugarcane prices continued for the third consecutive day, with talks between the farmers and Cabinet Minister, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, and other government officials, remaining inconclusive.

The farmers had on Friday had launched an agitation demanding that the Punjab government raise the state assured price (SAP) of sugarcane to bring it at par with Haryana where it is Rs 358 per quintal. They have already rejected the hike of Rs 15 per quintal announced by the Punjab government on Thursday. The state government had revised sugarcane rates to Rs 325 for the early variety, Rs 315 for mid-variety, and Rs 310 per quintal for the late-maturing variety, which the farmers had termed as too little.

The protest call was given by a couple of farm organisations only for August 20. However, members of all the 32 farm unions later joined the protest, which has now been extended for an indefinite period.

The farmers, as part of their protest, have blocked rail tracks and a national highway in Jalandhar, leading to major disruptions in rail and road traffic and harassment for commuters. As many as 83 trains were affected by the protest on Sunday. A fresh round of talks between is scheduled to be held on Monday at Jalandhar to decide on the production price of sugarcane, as there was a difference between the production cost estimates as presented by the government and as claimed by farmers’ unions.

Ferozepur railway division said a total 83 trains were affected due to the blockade on Ludhiana-Amritsar railway tracks on Sunday. They said that 48 trains were cancelled, 12 trains diverted, and at least 23 were short terminated.

On Saturday as many as 89 trains had been cancelled and 54 others diverted or short-terminated due to the protests.

On Sunday, the Punjab government had called the farm leaders for a meeting at Punjab Bhawan in Chandigarh, which was attended by senior farmer leaders, including Bharti Kisan Union (Rajewal)’s, Balbir Singh Rajewal, BKU (Doaba) president, Manjit Singh Rai, among others.

In the meeting, the officials presented figures about the cost of sugarcane production as per government estimates as the cane prices had been raised from Rs 310 per quintal to Rs 325 per quintal on Thursday. Farmers leaders told the government officials that the figures calculated by them are quite old and if one goes by the current cost of production, then the actual rate of cane can be decided. Farmers were also unhappy over the government’s decision of increasing sugarcane prices recently without taking them into confidence.

The government then decided to hold another meeting at Jalandhar on Monday to discuss the production cost of sugarcane during which farmers leaders, government officials, and agricultural experts from Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana, will be present. The price decided at the meeting will be sent to the Punjab Chief Minister for clearance, following which another meeting will be held between the farmers and the CM on Tuesday to declare the final cane prices.

BKU-Doaba, president, Manjit Singh Rai, said that even the government officials in the meeting admitted that the production cost of sugarcane at Rs 350 per quintal was low and wondered how Rs 325 per quintal was justified.

“We cannot accept anything below Rs. 392 per quintal, which is our production cost,” said Rai.

Minister, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, admitted that the actual figures of production cost of sugarcane were not available with the government at the time of meeting on Sunday and its rate was enhanced recently. Hence, experts were being roped in to calculate the actual price by taking care of the interests of both farmers as well as the sugarcane industry.

Rai, on the other hand, said that a final decision about lifting the ongoing dharna at railway tracks and the national highway, will be taken on Tuesday. “If the CM calls us for a meeting on Tuesday then we will take a final call regarding lifting the dharna after that.”

About the scheduled Punjab bandh on Tuesday, he added that the decision will depend on what the CM says during his meeting with farmers.

It was also learned that the government has also assured farmers to clear their pending dues of Rs 200 crores in 15 days while ways were also being found out to clear Rs. 43 crore pending to Phagwara sugar mill, which is on the verge of closure.

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