A day after two farmers were injured in police firing during an agitation by sugarcane growers, an uneasy calm hangs over Telwadi village in Paithan taluka of Aurangabad. At Uddhav Vikram Mapari’s house, relatives console his ageing mother. “Her blood pressure has shot up, we are worried about her well-being,” said Bhagwant, her youngest son. Mapari is one of the farmers injured in the firing. A few kilometres away, the other injured farmer Narayan Bhanudas Dukale’s house is locked. Neighbours said the family has been camping at the hospital where Dukale was admitted. “We have not known such violence in our village. And to think all this happened because we stood up for our rights,” said a villager.
Thousands of farmers, including Mapari and Dukale, had taken to the streets in Ahmednagar on Wednesday, demanding an increase in fair and remunerative price (FRP) for sugarcane. The farmers had been agitating since November 12. The police said they had to use force to control the large number of agitators. At Khanapur in Shrirampur taluka of Ahmednagar district, they had to open fire to control the protesters, injuring Mapari and Dukale.
A bullet hit Mapari on the chest, while another brushed Dukale’s hand. Four policemen, including deputy Superintendent of Police Sudarshan Munde and police inspector Suresh Sapkale, were injured in stone-pelting. Located near the catchment area of the Jaikwadi dam, cane for Telwadi and other nearby villages is the only source of sustainable income. While villagers do go for crops like cotton and onions, it is cane which gives them an assured income. Both the injured farmers have around 4 acres of cane, which is ready for harvest. However, growers in the area are unhappy with the functioning of the mills. Bhagwant said his brother, being the eldest of three, was concerned over lack of payment by the mills. “He participated in the strike so that we get a fair price for our hard work,” he said.
Last year, mills in the area had promised to pay Rs 2,500 per tonne of cane, but paid only Rs 2,300. Santosh Suryavanshi, Aurangabad head of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, said mills were yet to clear payment to the tune of Rs 34 crore. “Last year, farmers in the area had contacted us to support their fight. This year too, they had asked us for support,” he said.
Nitin Pawar, a villager, said the refusal by mills to even discuss the matter with the farmers had irked them the most. Unlike western Maharashtra, majority of the sugar mills in this area are private-run and thus have just a single payment for cane. Pawar and other farmers alleged the mills indulge in unfair practices and often intentionally reduce the weight of cane being brought for crushing. After Wednesday’s violence, mills have declared the first installment price of Rs 2,525 per tonne. The FRP for cane with 9.5 per cent recovery is Rs 2,550 for the present season.
The start of the crushing season in Maharashtra is often synonymous with strife between millers and growers over payment. In the cane belt of western Maharashtra, MP Raju Shetti calls for an ‘Oosh Parishad’ (cane conclave), where he places his demands for the first installment payment. A middle ground is found after discussions with millers after which crushing starts.
This year, millers of Sangli and Kolhapur have decided to pay Rs 200 over the FRP following discussions with the Sanghatana. While the crisis in Ahmednagar and Aurangabad seems to have blown over, it is simmering in Solapur. Ravikant Tupkar, youth president of the Sanghatana, said until and unless the farmers were united, they will not be able to get good prices.