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 mother. “Her blood pressure has shot up, we are worried about her,” 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 Wednesday, demanding an increase in fair and remunerative price (FRP) for sugarcane. They had been agitating since November 12.
Police said they had to use force to control the agitators. At Khanapur in Ahmednagar district, they had to open fire to control the protesters. A bullet hit Mapari on the chest, while another brushed Dukale’s hand. Four policemen, including DSP Sudarshan Munde and Inspector Suresh Sapkale, were injured in stone-pelting.
Cane cultivation is the only source of sustainable income for Telwadi and nearby villages. However, growers in the area are unhappy with the functioning of the mills.
Both the injured farmers have around 4 acres full of cane ready to harvest.
Bhagwant said Mapari was concerned over lack of payment by the mills. “He participated in the strike so that we get a fair price.”
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 Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana, said mills were yet to clear payment to the tune of Rs 34 crore. “Last year, farmers had contacted us to support their fight. This year too, they 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. Unlike western Maharashtra, most sugar mills in this area are privately-run and have just a single payment for cane. Pawar and other farmers alleged that the mills indulge in unfair practices and often reduce the weight of cane 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 current season.