NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Friday sought responses from the Centre and 16 sugarcane-producing states like Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra on a plea seeking a direction for immediate release of Rs 15,683 crore dues in a time-bound manner to the farmers, the delay of which was allegedly leading many to commit suicides.
A bench comprising Chief Justice S A Bobde and justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian decided to examine the issue after senior lawyer Sanjay Parikh explained that livelihood of over 5 crore farmers in the country and their dependents involved in cultivating sugarcane in an area of almost 50 lakh hectares are impacted due to delay in payment of dues.
The senior advocate made detailed submission as the bench initially observed that the plea has a very general prayer with regard to the money due to the farmers as nobody knew as to who owed how much and to whom.
He submitted that as on September 11, 2020, the dues to the sugarcane farmers across the country stand at Rs 15,683 crore and "Uttar Pradesh is the worst-affected where the sugarcane companies owe at Rs 10,174 crore to farmers."
"The delay in payment to the sugarcane farmers are leading many to commit suicides," the senior advocate, assisted by lawyer Vivek Singh, told the bench in the hearing conducted through video-conferencing.
Besides immediate payment of dues to the tillers, the plea also sought a direction to the authorities to take action against defaulting sugar mills and also registration of FIRs.
The plea also said a Committee of expert be formed to study the problems of non-payment of dues by the sugarcane industries and make changes in the legal framework to ensure that in the future no delay occurs in the payment of dues of farmers.
The bench, while issuing notice on the plea of Uttar Pradesh based farmer Lokesh Kumar Dhody and nine others, ordered that the names of private sugar mills, Bajaj Hindutan Sugar Ltd, Modi Sugar Mills and Simbhaoli Sugars Ltd, be removed from the list of parties.
"On an oral prayer made by Sanjay Parikh, Senior Counsel appearing for the petitioners, the names of Respondent Nos.19, 20 and 21 (sugar mills) are deleted from the array of parties at the risk of the petitioners. Let notice be issued to other respondents," it said.
Sixteen states -- Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Punjab, Bihar, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Chattishgarh, Telangana, Odisha, Goa, Telangana and Puducherry have been asked to respond to the plea seeking immediate disbursal of dues to the farmers.
"The petitioners, who are affected sugarcane farmers whose dues remained unpaid for several years, are constrained to approach this court under Article 32 of the Constitution against blatant violation of their fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19 (freedom of speech and expression) and 21 (Right to life) of the Constitution," the plea filed through lawyer Vivek Singh said.
"Out of the total outstanding amount of Rs 15,683 crore - (i) Rs 12,994 crore pertains to crop procured during the 2019-20 marketing season; (ii) Rs 548 crore pertained to 2018-19; (iii) Rs.242 crore pertained to 2017-181, (iv) Rs.1899 crore pertained to 2016-17 and previous years," the plea said.
After UP, which owe Rs 10,174 crore to the farmers, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat are at number two and three in the list and their "total unpaid dues of the last three years amounted to Rs 1,834 crore and Rs 924 crore respectively."
"Sugarcane and sugar industry together impact the livelihood of over 5 crore farmers in the country and their dependents involved in cultivating sugarcane in an area of almost 50 lakh hectares. The Petitioners represent the cause of several crores of similarly situated sugarcane farmers across the country. The petition, raises the general cause of sugarcane farmers throughout the country whose dues remained unpaid for several years, resulting in untold hardship to them. Their very survival is at stake. It is to be noted that many farmers have committed suicide for this and related reasons," it said.
Besides immediate payment of dues to the tillers, the plea also sought a direction to the authorities to take action against defaulting sugar mills through the process of Criminal Law as well as the other legal mechanism existing for recovery.
It also sought registration of FIRs, "arrest of the Director/Owner of the defaulting Sugar Mills, attachment of their immoveable property, impounding of their passports...be passed till the time the defaulters make the payment of outstanding dues to the farmers."
"Issue an appropriate - direction that a Committee of expert be formed to study the problems of non-payment of dues by the sugarcane industries and evolve a mechanism by making necessary changes in the legal framework, thereby ensuring that in the future no delay occurs in the payment of dues of farmers," it said.