Bitter harvest: Ganna and Gaihttps://indianexpress.com/elections/bitter-harvest-sugarcane-farmers-stray-cattle-lok-sabha-elections-5657331/

Bitter harvest: Ganna and Gai

For western UP’s Jat farmers, sugarcane payments and stray cattle are the only poll issues this time

Bitter harvest: Ganna and Gai
(Above) Kolhu owner Iqbal Ali (centre) with sugarcane growers Beerpal (extreme left) and Paramvir Malik (right). (Express photo by Harish Damodaran)

Paramvir Singh Malik supported the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. So did virtually all the 4,500-odd Jats constituting half of the total voters in Pinna, a village in Muzaffarnagar district and tehsil that falls under the Purqazi assembly segment of Bijnor parliamentary constituency.

“We voted Kunwar Bharatendra Singh, who is also from our community. Even in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh state elections, our vote was for BJP,” states this 57-year-old farmer, who mainly grows sugarcane on his 22-bigha land (5.9 bigha make an acre).

But this time round, Malik is backing the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Malook Nagar, a Gujjar. “90 per cent Jats and the entire 2,500 Jatav Dalit votes from my village will go to him. And so will that of our Muslim bhai (brothers),” he declares, pointing to Iqbal Ali, who operates a kolhu (jaggery unit) that crushes about 70 quintals of cane daily.

Malik’s logic is simple: “The BJP promised that farmers will get payment for their ganna (cane) within 14 days of delivery to sugar mills. In the current crushing season (October 2018-September 2019), I have supplied against 75 parchis (indents; each parchi represents one buffalo buggi cartload of 18 quintals) to the Khaikheri and Titawi factories (belonging to Uttam Sugar and Indian Potash Ltd, respectively). As against this, I have been paid only for 10 parchis and not got a single rupee after December 31. Can you imagine anybody not receiving salary for three months? This is a broken promise”.

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His fellow-villager Beerpal Malik, who farms 40 bigha, extends the logic further: “Timely ganna payments apart, (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi promised to double our incomes. Instead, this government has increased the cane price by just Rs 10 (from Rs 315 to Rs 325 per quintal since the 2016-17 season for early-maturing varieties), even as our input costs — whether for fertilisers, pesticides, diesel, power or labour — have shot up. On top of these, we are being forced to bear the burden of (Chief Minister) Yogi Adityanath’s gauraksha (cattle slaughter ban enforcement). Earlier, livestock traders were paying us Rs 15,000 for old unproductive cows and Rs 2,000 for male calves. Today, not only are there no takers, but the same animals are destroying our standing crop”.

These sentiments are voiced by farmers across Northwest UP’s ganna belt covering six constituencies — Meerut-Hapur, Baghpat, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor, Kairana and Saharanpur — that vote on April 11.

“Khet kha gaye pashu, aur hamein bana diya chowkidar (the cattle are devouring the fields and we are reduced to being watchmen),” remarks Vikas Panwar (32), a 50-bigha farmer in a group of 10 men from Bhainswal village of Shamli district and tehsil. Armed with lathis and torch-lights, they are all out at night guarding their ripening wheat against wandering bovines.

“In this whole village, there would be around 100 chowkidars for 500 awara pashu (stray cattle). They (BJP) must be stupid to think we will vote for them again,” says Panwar, whose village has some 6,000 voters that include an estimated 3,500 Jats, 1,300 Jatavs and 800 Muslims. The state government has, for now, identified 32 bigha of charagah (grazing land) within the village for building a cow shelter to house abandoned cattle. “They say it would get ready after elections. Our fear is that once it comes up, farmers in other villages will also start dumping their unwanted pashu here,” he adds.

“Is baar toh do hi mudde hain, ganna aur gai (there are only two issues in this election: cane and cattle)”, claims 27-year-old Sompal Tomar, whose 19-member joint family cultivates 250 bigha in Bamnauli village of Baghpat district’s Baraut tehsil.

Bitter harvest: Ganna and Gai
27-year-old Sompal Tomar from Baghpat’s Bamnauli village. (Express photo by Harish Damodaran)

Tomar sold 9,000 quintals of cane to the Malakpur mill of SBEC Sugar Ltd in 2017-18 and has supplied 8,000 quintals so far in the current season. “We got full payment for last season’s cane only this February. For this season, I have been paid only for 1,500 quintals delivered till December 2. In 2014, 80 per cent of Jats in my village voted for BJP after Modi, in a speech at Baraut, assured that his government will strictly enforce payment within 14 days. It was a huge mistake that will not get repeated. Our vote on April 11 is for Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Jayant Chaudhary,” asserts Tomar, whose community accounts for half of Bamnauli’s 7,000-plus voters.

The Upper Doab Sugar Mills at Shamli has, similarly, made payments for cane delivered only up to December 6 this season, while clearing its dues for 2017-18 only on February 14. “Not being paid within 14 days is nothing new. However, this is the first time since the mill’s establishment in 1933 that full payment for cane has happened not in the same, but the following season. And that is a shame,” points out Deshpal Rana, a farmer from Shamli’s Lilon village.

A former Shamli block president of BJP, Rana and a few other “disillusioned” party men are now inclined towards the Congress, which has fielded a Jat, Harendra Malik, from Kairana. A loss of Jat votes — whether to the Congress or the Samajwadi Party’s Begum Tabassum Hasan — isn’t good news for the BJP.

As reported by The Indian Express on March 24, cane dues of UP sugar mills beyond 14 days have crossed Rs 10,000 crore. This figure is more than twice the corresponding arrears of Rs 4,497.24 crore as on March 31, 2017, when the Yogi Adityanath government had just taken over. The BJP, in its 2017 Assembly elections manifesto, had promised that its government would ensure farmers got full payment for their cane within 14 days of sale — a provision already existing in the UP Sugarcane (Regulation of Supply and Purchase) Act of 1953.

Out of the Rs 10,074.98 crore of arrears as on March 22 — the Cane Commissioner’s Office in Lucknow has stopped releasing data after that — as much as Rs 4,547.97 crore or 45 per cent are due from mills in the six constituencies voting in the first phase.

“This time, mills in our area have gone slow in even issuing parchis, against which farmers can supply their cane. As a result, farmers have had to give some of their cane to kolhus at Rs 230-240 per quintal, as opposed to the state advised price of Rs 325,” notes Jitender Singh Hooda, a 45-bigha farmer from Shamli’s Kheri Bairagi village.

According to him, the total paid-out cultivation cost of cane works out over Rs 13,000 per bigha. A farmer harvesting an average 60 quintal per bigha can realise

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Rs 19,500 at Rs 325/quintal, translating into a return of Rs 6,500. “But these are all theoretical calculations, as we are not including the imputed value of family labour, rent on owned land and interest on our capital assets. These have to be taken as costs based on the Swaminathan Committee formula. And if you add interest on working capital, especially in a scenario of delayed payments from mills, the ganna farmer has nothing left to pay for the education of his children or proper healthcare,” he sums up.

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