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Maharashtra: Stranded cane harvesters to return home

In an order issued on Friday, Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta asked managing directors of these sugar mills to prepare an evacuation plan for the labourers who have been staying in temporary housing units at the mills for well over 14 days now.

Written by Parthasarathi Biswas , Kavitha Iyer | Mumbai, Pune |
April 18, 2020 3:53:58 am
India lockdown, coronavirus outbreak, cane harvesters, stranded farmers, Pune news, indian express news The COVID-19 crisis and the nationwide lockdown came when the 2019-2020 sugar cane crushing season was on its last lap. (Representational Image)

In what will come as a major relief to the over 1.31 lakh sugarcane harvesters stranded at 37 mills across the state, the government on Friday allowed their repatriation to their villages after undergoing medical examination.

In an order issued on Friday, Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta asked managing directors of these sugar mills to prepare an evacuation plan for the labourers who have been staying in temporary housing units at the mills for well over 14 days now.

The COVID-19 crisis and the nationwide lockdown came when the 2019-2020 sugar cane crushing season was on its last lap. Of the 143 factories milling this season, about 16 were operational and the migratory cane harvesters got stuck at 37 mills.

A survey by the sugar commissioner’s office showed that 96,017 of these labourers were housed in the fields within the command areas while 35,415 were housed within the premises of the mills.

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Mehta’s letter asked mills to prepare an evacuation plan for the harvesters who have been staying for more than 14 days at these locations. The harvesters are to be checked for symptoms of pneumonia by a medical practitioner. Labourers who clear the examination are to be sent back to their respective districts as per the evacuation plan that will be shared with the district collectors. The village sarpanch has been given the responsibility to ensure proper settlement of the workers once they reach their villages.

Deepak Nagargoje, who runs an orphanage and school in Beed’s Shirur Kasar taluka for children of the district’s cane workers, said the decision has brought relief to tens of thousands of families. “Not a single one of these more than 1 lakh workers has tested positive, and yet they were being forced to live away from their families. This is a welcome decision and people will continue to follow social distancing norms even after they return home,” he added. Nagargoje has, meanwhile, begun a community kitchen serving two meals a day to nearly 650 people from daily wagers’ families in the region.

Minister for Social Justice Dhananjay Munde, also the guardian minister of Beed district that accounts for the largest numbers of these workers, welcomed the decision. “Continue to follow government instructions. Be accountable for your own health and that of your village too where you are returning,” he said.

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Hailing mainly from Beed and other districts of Marathwada, the harvesters travel to the mills at the start of the November-April cane crushing season. Once the season gets over, they start their return journey in time to prepare for their own kharif crop season.

Sugar commissioner Saurabh Rao had earlier instructed mills to provide masks and sanitisers for the workers. Movement of the harvesters was banned as district borders were sealed. The district police of Kolhapur and Sangli had filed FIRs against managing director of three mills who had allowed their labourers to return to their home districts.

Meanwhile, the Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation has decided to donate Rs 30 lakh to the CM’s Relief Fund in view of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Cooperative sugar mills have been asked to donate to the federation’s fund, which will be handed over to the CM.

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First published on: 18-04-2020 at 03:53:58 am
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